New Delhi: A pamphlet that reads “Justice for Hathras victim”, “media reports suggesting” that anti-social elements were trying to initiate a riot in Uttar Pradesh, and some inputs suggesting a “big conspiracy” to disrupt peace in the state.
These are the grounds cited by the Uttar Pradesh Police to arrest a Kerala journalist and three others who were Wednesday booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is usually invoked for terrorism charges.
Journalist Siddique Kappan, Campus Front of India (CFI, student wing of Popular Front of India) office-bearers Atiq-ur-Rahman and Masood Ahmed, and a man identified as Alam were arrested while on their way to Hathras.
While Kappan’s wife says he was on his way to cover the aftermath of the alleged Hathras gangrape, police have arrested the four in their pursuit of what they describe as a “conspiracy” to foment trouble in the state in the backdrop of the suspected crime.
The UP Police has so far filed 19 FIRs in connection with the Hathras incident, alleging attempts to disturb peace in the state, sedition, conspiracy and promoting religious hatred. The alleged gangrape involved a Dalit victim, who died two weeks later on 29 September, and upper caste suspects, which has led many to see it as a result of the Indian heartland’s deep caste faultlines.
According to the FIR filed in the case in Mathura, where they were arrested, the journalist and three others have been booked for “raising funds for terrorist act”, sedition, promoting enmity between groups, and for “malicious acts, intending to outrage religious feelings”. They have also been booked under sections of the IT Act that pertain to tampering and breach of confidentiality and privacy, among other things.
“From recent media reports, it seems that some anti-social elements are creating communal disharmony and trying to create a riot by using the unfortunate Hathras episode,” the FIR states.
“We have evidence to show that the men were a part of a big conspiracy. Analysis of their phones, laptop and the pamphlet they were carrying has proved that they were going to Hathras to disrupt peace,” it adds. “We also found out that some people were conspiring to start a communal riot and were also collecting donations for the same,” the FIR, registered suo motu by the UP Police, states.
ThePrint reached Mathura Superintendent of Police Vineet Jaiswal for comment through calls and a text but there was no response by the time of publishing.
The FIR names the accused in the beginning, but then goes on to levy allegations against “some people” (not named), accusing them of creating communal disharmony in UP.
“Some men”, it says without referring to the four booked, are trying to instill fear on the basis of caste, start a communal riot and organise protests. These people, the FIR states, are also “collecting donations” for funding unrest. The FIR then goes on to name a website, Carrd.co, saying its members played an active role in the alleged conspiracy.
“These people are getting money from abroad, which is illegal. This money is being used to incite violence,” the FIR says.
Carrd.co is a US-based portal that allows one to create one-page websites. It has proved a popular tool to mobilise civilian protests.
Its presence in the Hathras investigation centres on a page called “Justice for Hathras” that is believed to have listed the sites and times of various protests in support of the victim around India. The FIR particularly cites a poster pasted on the page that had the text “AM I NOT INDIA’S DAUGHTER?”
The poster, the FIR states, is of a nature that causes “social disharmony” and “instigates and incites violence”.
The website, it adds, is being used to spread rumours on the alleged gangrape case, and “anti-national propaganda” by “anti-national messaging” on issues like “migration of workers”, “mob lynching”, and “support for separatist elements in Kashmir”.
‘My husband was going there to report’
Journalist Siddique Kappan is based in Delhi and works for a Malayalam news portal called Azhimukham. He has been a journalist for the past 10 years.
Speaking to ThePrint, his wife Rehana said he was on his way to meet the family of the 20-year-old alleged gangrape victim for a news report when he was arrested. His editors, she added, had asked him to go to Hathras.
“Just like any other news channel or paper, my husband was going to Hathras for a news report for his website. He has, in the past, covered many political and crime stories, a record of which is out in public for people to see. How can they arrest a journalist for doing his work?” she said.
Rehana heard about her husband’s arrest on a TV channel. “I had been trying to call him but his phone was switched off. I panicked because he is diabetic. After some time, I got to know that UP Police had arrested him,” she said.
She denied her husband had any association with the Carrd.org page under lens.
“He has been working with Azhimukham for all these years. For the last six years he was working from Delhi. Police can check his records. These allegations are ridiculous,” she said.
Kappan is also a secretary in the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), which has reportedly written to Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath to seek his immediate release.
‘Need for thorough investigation’
The FIR also states that the UP Police are working to unearth who exactly is “funding Carrd.co”, who formed it, and how much money was collected by them over a period of time.
“There is a need for deep investigation on the people running this website, who formed it and how they were receiving funds. We will probe how much money went to who all? How was it being utilised?” a police officer said.
“This website was clearly made to distort facts and put out information to make people angry. The portal is working against the Indian Constitution and law,” the FIR says.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.