Plea to SC on held journalist
One of the four persons arrested by Uttar Pradesh police on Monday night while they were on their way to Hathras and accused of instigating communal violence is a journalist who had been travelling to the district to meet the family of the rape-and-murder victim, a journalists’ association has said.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) on Tuesday filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court against the arrest of Sidhique Kappan, saying the move was illegal and unconstitutional. The association has sought his immediate production and release from “illegal detention”.
Uttar Pradesh police on Monday night arrested four persons — identified as Sidhique Kappan of Malappuram, Masood Ahmad of Bahraich, Atiq-ur-Rahman of Muzaffarnagar and Mohammad Alam of Rampur — and said they were members of the Popular Front of India.
The PFI is a Right-wing Muslim outfit on which the Uttar Pradesh government had sought a ban in the aftermath of the protests against the new citizenship regime earlier this year. The PFI, too, has said Kappan is not a member of the outfit.
The PFI has often landed in controversies in Kerala and Karnataka too.
Prashant Kumar, the additional director-general of police of Uttar Pradesh, had said on Monday that the four arrested persons were PFI members who had instigated communal violence through social media and other means over the Hathras tragedy.
“The police arrested four members of the PFI from the Manth toll booth in Mathura district while they were on their way to Hathras from Delhi. They are involved in hatching a conspiracy to instigate communal and casteist violence,” Kumar had said.
However, after the KUWJ said on Tuesday that Kappan was a journalist, Mathura rural police superintendent Shirish Chandra accepted that this could be true.
“We have seized their mobiles and laptops and are investigating their role. We have recovered some dubious literature from them. But we have also come to know that one of them is a journalist,” Chandra said.
He said the four had been booked under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The section allows “a police officer knowing of a design to commit any cognisable offence may arrest, without orders from a magistrate and without a warrant, the person so designing, if it appears to such officer that the commission of the offence cannot be otherwise prevented”.
Earlier in the day, KUWJ president Miji Jose wrote to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath mentioning that Kappan was the union’s Delhi unit secretary.
According to Jose, Kappan has worked for several media houses and is currently associated with a news website. He was going to Hathras to cover the gang rape and murder of the 19-year-old Dalit teen and meet her family. The Uttar Pradesh government has dealt with protests against the atrocity and the police’s mishandling of the case with an iron hand, with cops assaulting politicians and civilians alike and also allegedly harassing the victim’s relatives and showing extreme insensitivity by burning her body after locking up her parents.
“Our efforts and the efforts by some advocates based in Delhi to contact him (Kappan) were not successful…. Kappan was trying to do his duty as a reporter. We urge you to get him released at the earliest,” Jose wrote in the letter to Adityanath, whose police had also stopped the media from covering the Hathras crime for days.
Jose said in a text message to The Telegraph: “Spoke to SP Rural, Mathura Shirish Chandra. He said (Kappan) charged only under 151 CrPC. No other charge. Bail can be taken from concerned Sub Divisional Magistrate’s court.”
In its plea to the Supreme Court, the KUWJ has stated that the arrest had been made in violation of the mandatory guidelines laid down by the apex court and with the sole intention of obstructing the discharge of duty by a journalist.
The petition alleged that Kappan’s family and colleagues had not been informed of the arrest.
“The ultimate test of democracy lies in the ‘freedom of speech and expression’. The media is the breath of democracy. Denial of access of the journalists to the place of news seriously connected with the dignified life of citizens for reporting is a gross violation of Article 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(g) (free speech) and Article 21 (life and liberty) of the Constitution,” the petition filed through advocate Shweta Garg stated.
“The present writ petition is confined to facilitate a dignified democratic working atmosphere according to the letter and spirit and philosophy of the Constitution of India, for the members of the petitioner who are all working journalists, including access to Hathras and for the immediate release of Mr Sidhique Kappan, a journalist with more than 10 years’ experience, presently working with the news portal www.azhimukham.com, and member of the petitioner union,” the petition, which is yet to be listed for formal hearing, added.
The PFI has denied the allegations levelled against the outfit and its arrested members.
Anis Ahmed, the PFI general secretary, said in a video message: “We can see that the police and the government are spreading the rumour after the arrest of those four that the PFI is instigating communal and casteist violence. It is an unfounded and childish allegation. It makes clear that the government of UP is diverting the focus from the real issue.”
Ahmed said two of the four arrested persons — Atiq-ur-Rahman and Mohammad Alam — were national and state leaders of the Campus Front of India, a students’ organisation affiliated to the PFI. Anis Ahmed said Kappan was a journalist, and did not refer to Masood Ahmad at all.
A source claimed that Masood was a student of Jamia Millia Islamia university.
“The question arises whether an intention to meet the family members of the victim is a crime. It is clear that the UP government is dragging the name of the PFI into this to hide its failed law-and-order machinery and to save itself from the anger of the people, which is visible across UP and India,” Anis Ahmed said.
“They (the state government) are saying that a conspiracy is going on to malign the image of UP and Yogi. It is public knowledge that the Yogi government’s image is already very poor across the world. So, making an allegation against the PFI is baseless. The PFI condemns the arrest as it is the peoples’ democratic right to meet anybody and protest,” he added.
“The PFI condemns the action and demands the immediate release of the journalist and the others.”
Mohammad Shamoon, a PFI spokesperson, told this newspaper that they would weigh legal options if the four were not released soon.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief and former chief minister Mayawati ridiculed the Uttar Pradesh government and wondered whether the allegation that Opposition parties were instigating casteist and communal strife over the Hathras tragedy was “genuine or political manoeuvring”.
“Time will tell whether the allegation is genuine or is political manoeuvring. The government should focus on ensuring justice to the family of the Hathras victim,” Mayawati said.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu said: “We have a communal government in UP that is trying to protect the criminals.”