New Delhi: An “intention” to start a riot, funds collected from “known, unknown sources”, association with Muslim organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) and a history of “organising demonstrations to protest against the citizenship amendment act (CAA)” — this is what the Uttar Pradesh Police has against Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan and two others booked under sedition and terror charges last month.
Siddique, along with Atiq-ur-Rahman and Masood Ahmed, both office-bearers of the Campus Front of India, the student wing of PFI, and a man identified as Alam were arrested on 5 October while on their way to Hathras to report on the alleged gang rape and murder case that made national headlines.
The arrested men have since been in a jail in Mathura due to the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) invoked against them. According to the police, all four are part of the PFI. However, the organisation is not banned in India.
Following his arrest, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) filed a habeas corpus petition challenging Siddique’s custody but Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde did not entertain the plea. Bobde asked the KUWJ to amend the writ petition. During the hearing, the union was also asked to approach the Allahabad High Court for relief.
The KUWJ then filed an interim application in a Mathura court seeking a video conference between Siddique and his family and lawyer as a meeting is required to amend the petition. But the chief judicial magistrate of Mathura rejected this.
Soon after, the union filed an application in the top court challenging the Mathura court’s order, seeking that the lawyer be allowed to meet Siddique either physically or via video conference. An additional application was also filed in the Supreme Court for bail.
Both the applications are up for hearing Monday.
ThePrint has accessed court records, including the initial remand application, court orders and police records, including case diaries, to piece together the case and evidence against the journalist.
A ‘confession’ statement, ‘link to PFI’ cited as evidence
The Uttar Pradesh Police claims to have strong evidence against the four men — Athikur Rehman, Alam, Siddique and Masood — to show that they wanted to “start a riot in Hathras on the basis of caste, as they had done in the past during opposition to CAA on the basis of religion”.
For this, the police claims the men collected money from a number of “known, unknown sources” through “print and electronic means”.
The evidence placed on record to prove these allegations, however, are: a confession statement to the police (not admissible in court) that the four are members of PFI/CFI; their past association with organising and covering the anti CAA protests; an alleged link with members of the banned outfit SIMI; and some “media reports suggesting” that anti-social elements were trying to initiate a riot in Uttar Pradesh.
According to the police, the men created some websites and used the Hathras incident to create a “caste dispute” by projecting the alleged gang rape as a caste crime.
In a remand application last month, the police told the court that it was convinced about a “large conspiracy” behind these four men’s visit to Hathras and has enough evidence to book them for “raising funds for terrorist act”, sedition, promoting enmity between groups, and for “malicious acts, intending to outrage religious feelings”.
“The men admitted that they are members of PFI/CFI and during the investigation it was found that they had relations with former members of banned organisation SIMI and we have their statements,” a senior police officer told ThePrint.
“In the past, these men created various websites and pages on the internet in protest against the CAA and incited violence. Using the Hathras episode, the men wanted to spread communal disharmony. We have made a list of those and are probing them,” the officer said.
The police also told the court that the men were operating a website called carrd.co and printed pamphlets like “AM I NOT INDIAS DAUGHTER” to provoke a mass rebellion, funds for which were allegedly being pumped in by “foreign countries”, a claim that has been denied by Siddique’s family.
‘Part of PFI’s network in professional capacity’
Siddique Kappan has been working as a journalist for a decade covering the Supreme Court, political affairs and events, social issues and stories that have attracted national attention and headlines. He is also the elected secretary of the Delhi unit of Kerala Union Working Journalists.
Siddique has been working for Malayalam news portal Azhimukham for the last six months as a “regular contributor”. Earlier, he also worked with PFI mouthpiece Tejas Daily. That is where his links with PFI are traced to.
“Tejas closed down due to lack of finances in 2018 so Siddique moved to Thalsamayam, another Malayalam publication. That too shut down soon later and in January this year Siddiqui joined Azhimukham,” said Manikandan, former KUWJ secretary and fellow journalist.
“Since January, he has been reporting for Azhimukham and covered political as well as other stories. He may be in touch with the PFI members because of his association with Tejas but that is completely professional. Siddique is not an activist or a worker of PFI, and he has never been involved in any episode that may have attracted police action in the past,” he said.
Manikandan added that Siddique even wrote an article on how PFI was hijacking the Muslim community’s genuine struggles through violent means, putting them in danger. This report for Azhimukham was done in the backdrop of the Bengaluru violence reported in August this year that also renewed the demand of banning PFI and its political arm SDPI.
“He is a very active journalist and one without bias. He worked with Tejas but he did a story on how PFI’s involvement in violence was not right,” Manikandan said.
On the night of 4 October, Siddique left a message at his office saying that he would be travelling to Hathras. But before he could reach, he was nabbed at the toll plaza in Mathura amid “intelligence inputs” and “prior information” suggesting that he and three others were going there to “start a riot”, according to local police.
“Siddique was a regular contributor to our website and covered stories in Delhi and NCR. After the Hathras incident, he sent a late night message to the office on 4 October saying he will be going to Hathras in the morning. It is only the next day that we found that he has been arrested,” K.N. Ashok, editor at Azhimukham, told ThePrint.
‘Nothing but stopping a journalist from doing his job’
While the UP Police is convinced of a “large conspiracy” behind Siddique’s visit to Hathras, his lawyers and editors told ThePrint that it is a case of “obstruction of discharge of duty in the capacity as journalist”.
“It is nothing but stopping a journalist from doing his job. The FIR does not contain any averments against Siddique,” said advocate Wills Mathew, who is representing Siddique.
“The FIR is frivolous and cites unnamed ‘news reports’ published in some media to say that the men were planning to incite a riot. Moreover, the FIR does not mention any details of the ‘offending websites’ and the source of the information or input to justify arrest. The FIR in no way discloses the commission of any offence to attract such stringent sections,” Mathew said.
In the first habeas corpus petition filed in the Supreme Court last month, Siddique’s lawyer argued that arresting a journalist for doing his job sets a very wrong precedent and puts the entire media fraternity at risk of being targeted.
“For a media professional, there is no fixed time-table, planning or a weekly off. They have to travel anywhere at any time by any means focusing on the news to be covered, be it flood, natural calamities, act of terrorism, illegalities, crime, and all issues concerning citizens, even risking their life in the process,” the petition read.
“Hence this case is that of an arbitrary and illegal arrest of a journalist covering news of national importance and thus is the ‘end of democracy’,” it added.
“The present case will seriously affect the work of the media professionals as it curbs the right of the people to report news which is their job. It is a big question on the democracy and right of an individual to discharge his professional duties,” Wills told ThePrint.
‘A human rights violation’
In the petition, Siddique Kappan’s lawyer also argued that his arrest was completely “unlawful” and made without compliance of guidelines as neither his organisation nor his family was informed about the arrest.
Moreover, according to the arrest memo, the four men were arrested on 5 October at 4:50 pm under preventive detention laws. But the case underwent a complete alteration and on 7 October, an FIR was registered under the UAPA and sedition law.
“The family members and friends of Siddiqui were unable to contact him and had no idea on his whereabouts. The grounds of arrest were also not made clear. This is why we filed a petition,” Mathew said.
Moreover, at the time of producing Siddiqui in the trial court on 6 October, he was not even allowed to speak to his lawyer.
“This is illegal and a complete violation of human rights. At the time of producing Siddique in the trial court on 6 October, the magistrate prohibited me from speaking to him. When I filed an application to meet him in jail, it was rejected,” Mathew said.
“There are no grounds to reject the application of the counsel to meet his client and this is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of the detenue,” he added.
Mathew said Siddique was even not allowed to sign the vakalatnama for authorising him to act on his behalf. “We even asked for an opportunity for video conferencing, if not a physical meeting but that too was not allowed. Request for e-mulaquat was also rejected,” he said.
‘Digging for links’
With the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF) probing PFI’s link with Siddiqui and three others in the case, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has also been roped in to further widen the probe.
Although the agency didn’t file a fresh case, its officials with permission from the court questioned the four men inside the Mathura jail for their suspected role in a 2018 money laundering case involving PFI. Their statements were also recorded.
The ED claimed that Masood’s bank account had received funds for a “specific purpose” that needs to be investigated. It also said Masood was in touch with PFI general secretary Mohammed Ilyas, who is being probed for Delhi riots that broke out in February killing 53 people.
In January, the agency had submitted a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs stating that PFI has mobilised money to “finance the cost of demonstrations and gherao against the CAA Bill till 6 January 2020”.
The agency also said that it came across bank account details to suggest that Rs 120.5 crore was credited to accounts related to the PFI, and there is a direct connection between the dates of deposits and withdrawals from these accounts and the dates of anti-CAA demonstrations in different parts of the country.
In addition to this, the UP STF also claimed that Atiq-ur-Rahman, arrested with Siddique, was also an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots case and had been absconding since then.
While the STF claimed that it was carrying out a “thorough probe” by digging all past links and records of the four men, PFI affiliate Campus Front of India called it a “witch hunt”.
CFI national president M.S. Sajid said the UP Police’s allegations are baseless and without any concrete evidence.
“Since the UP police does not have enough evidence against these men to keep them inside for long, they are now showing their involvement in these old cases. These allegations are baseless. UP police are now just scurrying for something that they can pile on them to keep them behind bars,” he said. “They are just being targeted.”
‘Hopeful for justice’
The last time Siddiqui Kappan’s wife Rehana spoke to him was before he left for his assignment to Hathras. She learnt about her husband’s arrest from a TV channel.
She tried to connect with him a few times, but could not. Almost after three weeks of his arrest, Siddique spoke to his 90-year-old mother last week for a few minutes.
“At least now I know that he is fine. Till now we had no idea. I would request the lawyer to make us speak to him once but were told that it is not permitted. I do not understand why he is being treated like this for doing his job?” she asked.
“My husband had not even reached Hathras to start his reporting when he was arrested. What is his crime?” she added.
But now after journalist Arnab Goswami’s bail last week, where the Supreme Court batted for protecting liberty, Rehana is hopeful.
“One senior journalist got bail and the apex court said it cannot be denied. I am hopeful that Siddique will also be released from the jail. I am pinning my faith on the judiciary and really hope he is released,” she said.