In a bizarre argument, the Special Task Force has held that Siddique Kappan’s articles on victims of riots or anti-CAA protests, who were Muslims, amounts to “communal reporting.”

A file photo of Journalist Siddique Kappan
news Controversy Friday, October 01, 2021 - 18:39

For the past one year, journalist Siddique Kappan has been behind bars, arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on October 1, 2020 while he and three others were on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the gangrape and murder of a Dalit woman. The Uttar Pradesh’s Special Task Force, which had been set up to probe the case, has filed a 5,000 page chargesheet in the case, the Indian Express reported on Friday. And in a menacing argument, the Special Task Force has said that Siddique Kappan’s reporting on victims of riots, most of whom were Muslims, amounts to “communal reporting.” The charge sheet makes clear the skewed understanding of journalism, as according to the STF, “reporting on riots is also communal.”

This chargesheet was filed in April this year, and along with Siddique, three others, Atiq-ur-Rehman, Masood Ahmad, and Alam were booked under the stringent UAPA and sections of the Information Technology Act. The chargesheet claims that they were going to Hathras with an intention "to breach the peace" as part of a "conspiracy." And what has the police given as proof? Some pamphlets, WhatsApp chats between the accused, files and data from Kappan’s computer and news reports allegedly published by him.

A case diary has been attached to the chargesheet filed by the STF earlier this year, parts of which TNM has also accessed. In the case diary, the Uttar Pradesh STF has claimed that Siddique Kappan was arrested for ‘inciting violence,’ but has listed 36 articles reportedly written by him, which they claim is ‘irresponsible’ reporting by the journalist. These 36 articles, the STF says, were on a range of issues — the anti-CAA protests, the Nizamuddin Markaz conference, the northeast Delhi riots, news and political events in Kerala etc. The STF has said that in many cases, Muslims have been “painted as victims” and articles have been written to “incite their sentiments.”

The STF has added small notes against each article they mention. For example, the STF mentions a report they say Siddique has written, about protesters who were booked by the police for anti-CAA riots, and the justification that the police have provided for adding this in the chargesheet is “the names of the people from Muslim community against whom action was taken by the police has been mentioned.” The case diary also mentions reports by Kappan on the northeast Delhi riots of February 2020, including a video narration, claiming that they have been “communally written” to “incite communal sentiments,” and that it is “against the principles of journalism.” The list also mentions a report titled “who is Sharjeel Imam,” and the STF claims that the article on Sharjeel’s arrest talks about “state terrorism against Muslims.

However, some of the reports which the UP STF claims to be ‘inciting violence’ includes even generic news related to various Kerala issues that multiple media outlets have also reported, and seemed to have been mentioned in the chargesheet just because of the religion of the person involved. One of the listed reports is named ‘KM Basheer story anniversary’. KM Basheer was a Kerala journalist who got killed in an accident in August 2019 in Thiruvananthapuram district, after being hit by a car allegedly driven by Kerala IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman. The note by the STF says “he has written about the journalist’s death,” without providing any other context how this amounts to an offence under any of the charges Siddique has been booked under. 

Another news mentioned in the chargesheet is about the 'Periya double murder case'. The case pertains to the murder of two Youth Congress (youth wing of Congress party) workers in Kerala's Kasaragod district in February 2019. A local leader of the CPI(M) party in Kasaragod district was arrested as a key accused. Again, there is no explanation on how this amounts to an offence under UAPA. There are several other articles like this, on daily news events from Kerala, which have been mentioned just because the accused or the people involved are Muslims. 

The STF has also claimed that by publishing an interview of Hany Babu, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, Siddique has “tried to portray him as a victim.” In one case, the STF has simply written “interview of an 82-year-old grandmother,” with zero context.

The Uttar Pradesh STF says that most of these articles have been published in the Malayalam daily Azhimukham.   

At the end of the list of these 36 articles, justifying this list, the STF said that most of the articles written by Siddique Kappan are “communal.” Furthermore, in a skewed idea of what journalism is, the UP STF even goes to the extent of claiming that “reporting on riots is also communal.”

“During riots, taking the name of a particular community and publishing the events that transpired can incite sentiments of a community. Responsible journalists do not do such communal reporting. Kappan reports only and only to incite Muslims, and this is the hidden agenda of the PFI (Popular Front of India) to incite and defame India. Some articles were also sympathetic to Maoists and Communists,” the UP STF claims. 

Meanwhile, talking to TNM, Siddique Kappan’s counsel, advocate Wills Mathews said that he has yet not been officially given the copy of the chargesheet by the prosecution. Wills Mathews, however. questioned how the investigators can allege that Kappan ‘incited violence’ by doing his job. “He is a journalist and a journalist is supposed to come in contact with scores of people regardless of their background. As a journalist he will have to write various kinds of reports. This is part of his job,” says advocate Wills. Remember that Kappan has voluntarily given in writing to the court that he is even ready to undergo narco analysis, Wills adds.

The Indian Express reported that the charge sheet also claims that Siddique Kappan is the “think tank” of the Popular Front of India, and that he was “trying to publish “anti-Hindu” stories in Malayalam media” and “had plans to inflame the Delhi riots”. And if one asks how, the STF’s explanation is that he planned to “inflame by writing news articles about the riot.”

After portions of the chargesheet emerged, many journalists took to social media that the chargesheet is nothing but Islamophobia and an attempt to stifle journalism in India. The Kerala Union of Working Journalists has also issued a statement condemning the inclusion of reports written by Siddique as “proof.”

“Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) is shocked to learn that the Uttar Pradesh police has included the reports and interviews done by Siddique Kappan as a journalist in the chargesheet filed against him. The action of the UP police is nothing but treating journalism as a crime. This goes against the very spirit of freedom of expression guaranteed under the constitution. We appeal to the Honorable Supreme Court of India to intervene in the matter and quash the shameful act of the UP police,” the statement reads. 

In April this year, Kappan’s wife Raihanath had written to the Chief Justice of India, raising allegation against the UP police that Kappan, who was hospitalised due to COVID-19, was chained to his cot and was not allowed to use the toilet for days. 

Read: Fake case against me: Siddique Kappan speaks to media for first time since arrest

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