Journalists in Manipur threatened on all sides

New York, August 8, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by deteriorating conditions for the media in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, where more than a dozen insurgent groups are involved in separatist activity or factional fighting. In addition to increased pressure from competing militant groups, journalists are now faced with a new directive issued by the state banning the publication of any statements made by “unlawful organizations.”

Local journalists say that the vaguely worded order, which was issued on August 2, would cripple reporting on Manipur’s internecine conflicts. Moreover, the directive puts them in an impossible situation—caught between the threat of physical reprisal from militants on one side and government prosecution on the other. An editorial today in the Imphal Free Press, a newspaper published in Imphal, the state capital, said the ban would force the media “to choose between the devil and the deep sea.”

The All Manipur Working Journalists Union has urged the state government to withdraw the order by August 9.
“Journalists must be free to make decisions about what to publish and what not to publish,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Instead of making conditions for journalists even more insecure, the government should focus on providing greater security for the press in Manipur to carry out their important work.”

The ban comes amid a period of heightened tension for the press in Manipur, which is navigating competing demands from rival factions of the separatist People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) to carry their opposing statements.

On July 31, armed men associated with the so-called Tiger faction of PREPAK visited the offices of two local newspapers, Hueiyen Lanpao and Naharolgi Thoudang, and demanded that the group’s statement be published the following day. Members of the union and the Editors Forum of Manipur held an emergency meeting and decided to carry an edited version of the statement in the next day’s papers. That evening, the editor of the local Sangai Express received a package containing a rocket-propelled grenade and a warning of “dire consequences” if his newspaper carried the Tiger statement. The ominous parcel was labeled in bold lettering “from the Home department of PREPAK,” according to the Indian daily Telegraph

In response to the threats, the union and the Editors’ Forum decided to suspend publication of all local newspapers. The local cable television channel ISTV, which also had received threats from the PREPAK factions, stopped carrying news bulletins. The journalists called an end to the news blackout on August 5, after receiving apologies from the PREPAK factions.