Imphal : The Manipur Police acted illegally in declaring anti-migrant campaigner Khomdram Ratan an “absconder” within hours of a supposedly incriminating picture appearing and when it could easily have arrested him, lawyers here said.
“It’s bizarre. While the police were issuing the public notice declaring him an absconder, he was very much in office addressing reporters and attending to official work. Where’s the question of absconding,” Khaidem Mani, a high court lawyer and former president of the All Manipur Bar Association, told IANS.
He said Ratan has been booked as a criminal on the basis of a Facebook photograph which is a “mockery of law”.
The picture, which went viral on Wednesday, purportedly shows Ratan taking an oath of allegiance with the flag of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a banned insurgent group that has been fighting for an “independent” Manipur.
Ratan, who has been the convener of the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), said on Friday that the picture was doctored and was meant to sabotage the movement for enactment of a constitutional safeguard for protection of the indigenous people of Manipur.
He said he never took part in any gathering where he held the UNLF’s flag and pledged allegiance to the outfit.
Ratan also resigned on Friday as the convener of JCILPS which has been demanding the enactment of three anti-migrant bills passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31, 2015.
The police not only declared Ratan an absconder, but also announced a reward of Rs five lakh for information leading to his arrest.
Retired IPS officer and now high court lawyer Ahanthem Romenkumar said a Facebook picture cannot be the basis of filing a first information report (FIR).
“The Karnataka high court had quashed an FIR based on a Facebook photograph since the veracity of the picture could not be established,” Romenkumar said.
“Besides in case of Ratan, police flouted procedures. At least two attempts should be made to arrest the accused. If they fail, the court should issue a public notice and 3 to 6 months should be given before declaring a person a proclaimed offender.”
In Ratan’s case the matter was settled within 24 hours even though the accused was not fleeing the law but addressing press conferences, he said.
“This arbitrary and discriminatory step could be challenged in a law court, Romenkumar said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Khumukcham Joykishan said the police must substantiate the charge against Ratan within seven days or he would launch an agitation.
Many people are of the view that the intention of the government is not to arrest Ratan who is very much around but to deflect the anti-migrant campaign.
The JCILPS has been demanding an inner line permit (ILP) system for Manipur which has been encapsulated in the three anti-migrant bills passed by the Manipur assembly that now await presidential assent.
The ILP is a special permit required to enter certain restricted areas in the country. The system is already in place in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.