New Delhi: A year ago, on 5 October 2020, four people, including Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan, were arrested while they were on their way to Hathras to report the aftermath of the alleged gang rape and death of a Dalit woman. The Uttar Pradesh Police said they suspected the four accused planned to create unrest in Hathras.
On 3 April this year, the five-member team of UP Police’s Special Task Force (STF) filed a 5,000 page charge sheet in a Mathura court against Kappan and seven accused — Alam, Masood Ahmed and Atiq-ur-Rahman who were arrested with the journalist, and K.A. Rauf Sharif, Mohammad Danish, Ansad Badruddin and Firoz Khan who were arrested later.
They have been accused of sedition and allegedly attempting to incite violence in the state after the Hathras incident.
The Mathura court has taken cognisance of the charge sheet but charges against them haven’t been framed yet, which is one of the initial stages in a criminal trial.
The charge sheet, parts of which were accessed by ThePrint, cites 36 news articles, WhatsApp chats and groups, social media posts and statements of 55 witnesses, of which over 40 are police personnel, to build its case against Kappan and the seven others.
Meanwhile, the lawyers representing the accused are yet to receive a copy of the charge sheet and have filed an application in the Mathura court demanding the same.
‘Who is Sharjeel Imam’ and other articles
The charge sheet includes multiple case diaries, and a note attached to one of them lists 36 news articles allegedly recovered from Kappan’s laptop and authored by him.
According to the note, these articles were originally in Malayalam and were then translated for examination. These articles, it said, “seemed” to have been sent to news portal Azhimukham.
The note then talks about these articles individually. For instance, the first file on his computer titled ‘AMU story Part two’, contained reports on the 2019 anti-CAA protests at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Uttar Pradesh.
“In the article, Muslim youth have been described as victims, who were beaten up by the police and were asked to go to Pakistan,” states the note. The article, it said, clearly used language to “incite Muslims”.
Another article attached to the note claimed that the allegations made against the members of the Tablighi Jamaat, for organising a congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz and violating Covid-19 protocols in March 2020, “were a plan to defame the Muslim community”.
Kappan’s report on the Delhi riots has also been called “contrary to the principles of journalism” in the case diary, asserting that he indulged in “sectarian reporting to spread unrest in the community”.
An interview with Bhima Koregaon accused Delhi University professor Hany Babu has also been cited because it allegedly “attempts to show Hany Babu as the victim”.
Other articles include writings on anti-CAA protests, the Delhi riots FIR, interview with “82-year old dadi” purportedly from Shaheen Bagh and an article titled ‘Who is Sharjeel Imam’.
“These writings of Siddique Kappan can be classified, to a great extent, as communal. During the riots, the sentiments of communities flare up when the incident is published with the name of a particular community in the newspaper,” noted the case diary.
“Responsible journalists do not do such communal reporting but Siddique Kappan is reporting only and only to instigate Muslims…which is the agenda of PFI (Popular Front of India) — to instigate Muslims, create communal riots and harm and defame the country. Some stories have also been written to express sympathy with Maoists and Communists,” it added. Popular Front of India (PFI) is a Kerala-based Muslim organisation.
‘It is his duty as a journalist’
Kappan’s advocate Wills Matthew, however, asserted that since Kappan is a journalist, he talks to all kinds of people. “It is his duty,” he said.
“He has not violated any Press Council rules or norms. Whatever the allegations be, if we put it in the scanner of journalistic duty and the rules of Press Council of India, it would not come under the definition of an offence…For example, if a journalist does a story on terrorism and meets a lot of people, is that a crime?,” Matthew told ThePrint.
Lawyers of the other six accused also pointed out that they had filed an application in the Mathura court in May this year for a copy of the charge sheet under Section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which mandates supply of police reports, but the application remains pending.
Advocate Shashwat Anand, representing three of the accused — Rahman, Masood and Alam — in their habeas corpus petition filed in the Allahabad High Court, told ThePrint that during one of the recent hearings, the high court also “orally observed that the non- supply of charge sheet to the accused persons is in sheer violation of the principle of natural justice”.
Advocate Madhuvan Dutt, who is representing all the other accused except for Kappan in the Mathura court, said the allegations against all the accused do not have any of the ingredients to prove the offences that they have been accused of such as sedition and the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
“This government has adopted a different interpretation of the law. If anybody highlights the injustice against any of the weaker sections of the society, like SC/STs or women, they term it as an attempt to deteriorate law and order situation or to hurt people’s religious sentiments,” Dutt told ThePrint.
WhatsApp, Facebook chats, call data records
Hundreds of pages in the charge sheet contain call data records of those involved in the case, their WhatsApp and Facebook chats as well as bank account details of the accused and details of transactions to accounts of PFI office bearers.
Kappan’s WhatsApp messages annexed to the charge sheet include a long message titled “agenda for empowerment of marginalised communities”, which talks about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), representation of Muslims in the political structure including Pasmanda Muslims, due share to OBC Muslims, caste-based census, enforcement of rule of law, and empowerment of women, farmers and landless labourers.
The text was allegedly written by retired IAS officer Dr Anis Ansari and was part of a webinar convened by him under the banner of Indian Muslims for Progress and Reforms (IMPAR).
Several of the WhatsApp messages that form a part of the charge sheet are news reports shared by the accused on various issues including court orders in the Bhima Koregaon case.
The annexures also list the WhatsApp groups that Kappan was part of, and their members in a tabular format. These tables have titles like ‘Kappan relation with SDPI KNMP members WhatsApp group’, ‘Kappan relation with SDPI Poocholamad Branch WhatsApp group’ and ‘Kappan relation with Media Popular Front WhatsApp group’ among others.
Screenshots of Kappan’s Instagram account and his Facebook account have also been annexed to the charge sheet. One of the posts attached says, “Babri Masjid Atmahatya kar rahi thi!!! #Judicialkarseva”.
However, the charge sheet also included a communication by the Cyber Cell dated 18 October, which had only flagged Rahman’s Facebook profile which said that he is the “national treasurer, Campus Front of India”.
“No other objectionable, communal or caste related posts and videos were found,” said the communication.
Identical witness statements
Among the witness statements, the case diary records three eyewitness statements from Hathras residents.
The statements, dated 7 November, allege that Kappan and Rahman were trying to incite a crowd outside Bulgadhi village in Hathras, the day after the victim’s body had been cremated.
However, the victim in the Hathras case was forcibly cremated at 2:25 am on 30 September, while the four accused were arrested before they could reach Hathras, on 5 October, at a toll plaza in Mathura.
A witness said that Kappan and Rahman were part of the crowd that allegedly attempted to instigate violence. While he did not know their identities earlier, he recognised them a day before the statement was recorded while the two were being transported by the police.
“These people (Kappan and Rahman) were also in the crowd. They were instigating the crowd on the basis of caste by asking them to kill the Thakurs and kill the policemen. They were also giving money to some people present in the crowd, but when people started gathering around them, they moved away from there,” he was quoted as saying.
The charge sheet also includes a statement by Gyanendra Singh Solanki, toll plaza in-charge from Mant, Mathura.
This statement said that when the accused person’s car was stopped for checking, they said that “we are going to Hathras to provide justice to the victim and we will return only after getting her justice”.
“Except the driver Alam, the persons had 1,717 pamphlets, which had details of how to spread hatred in the society, cause caste-based violence and deteriorate public order. From conversations with them at the spot and in the police station, it was found that besides Alam, the remaining three were active members of PFI’s associate Campus Front of India (CFI),” said Solanki.
Over 40 statements of police officials were also attached to the charge sheet, however, most of them were identical and mentioned the recovery of 1,717 pamphlets, the statements made by the accused and the allegations of them being associated with PFI and CFI.
Is the probe complete?
The last case diary in the charge sheet, dated 2 April 2021, states that the authorities have also found prima facie evidence against one Kamal K.P. and a few others and that investigation against them is still underway.
The diary also mentions that due action will be taken under Section 43F of the UAPA against PFI officers, alleging that they refused to cooperate.
Section 43F makes it obligatory to provide information to officers investigating any offence under this law and failure to furnish this information is punishable with a maximum three-year jail term with or without fine.
However, the final brief of the charge sheet does not mention any pending investigation.