This is the fourth part of Newslaundry’s ongoing series on the case against journalist Siddique Kappan. You can read the previous parts .
Kappan and three others at a toll plaza in Mathura on October 5, 2020, when he was on his way to Hathras. According to the first information report filed by the UP police on October 7, Kappan has been charged under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), in addition to provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Information Technology Act.
Based on an examination of the chargesheet by defence lawyer Madhuvan Dutt Chaturvedi, Newslaundry has learnt that four booklets were recovered from Kappan’s Delhi residence by the UP police and later, a 45-page booklet was found in his laptop. In the chargesheet, the UP police’s special task force has claimed the presence of this reading material suggests “Kappan was working for SIMI”, referring to the Students’ Islamic Movement of India.
SIMI was designated a terrorist organisation and by the government of India in 2001.
According to a daily diary entry by the investigating officer of Kappan’s case, on November 11, 2020 a search operation was conducted at a rented apartment in Jangpura, in Delhi, where Kappan was a tenant. Among the documents retrieved during the search are papers related to Kappan’s bank account, his driving licence and four booklets.
One of the booklets is written in Malayalam and presents an overview of SIMI’s history and ideology. It would take UP STF a month to get this 26-page booklet translated into English. Of the remaining three booklets, two were published by human rights group PUDR, or the People’s Union for Democratic Rights. The last booklet is a research paper published by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance.
A fifth booklet, written in Malayalam, was recovered from Kappan’s laptop on January 20, 2021. This has also been translated and is included in the chargesheet.
The UP STF’s contention is that since all these booklets are either about SIMI or related to the group, they prove that Kappan was associated with SIMI. This in turn justifies charging the journalist under provisions of the UAPA.
Kappan’s lawyer Wills Mathews has said his client has no connection to any terrorist organisation. “Five booklets based on a particular ideology cannot be the basis of conclusion,” he told Newslaundry. “Mr Kappan might be in touch with people from all walks of life in connection with his duties as a journalist. What matters is whether there has been any breach of code of conduct of the Press Council Act.”
In the 5,000-page chargesheet, the UP STF seems to suggest that Kappan being in possession of these booklets establishes the journalist is guilty of sedition. It’s unclear how possession of literature justifies invoking the related to “raising funds for terrorist activity”, which is among the charges against Kappan under the UAPA.
The daily diary entry from November 11, 2020, says three booklets in English and one booklet in Malayalam were recovered from Kappan’s residence. The Malayalam booklet had a handwritten note in English. The chargesheet quotes the investigating officer’s observation that, in the Malayalam booklet (which hadn’t yet been translated), “there seem to be corrections made at several places which suggests that this document was being modified by the accused [Kappan].”
The handwritten note – believed to be written by Kappan – has been included in the chargesheet. The note says that following a series of meetings at Aligarh Muslim University in March 1976, with “representatives” from across the country including Kerala, “a decision was taken to form a nameless coordination committee with freedom to adopt local names.”
The members from Kerala chose Ansarul Islam Sangathan as their name. The note also says, “SIM [sic] formation meeting again at AMU 24 April 1977 and 25 April 1977. SIMI was adopted as name on 24th. The Constitution was adopted on 25th.”
According to the UP STF, Kappan’s notes along with the booklets – which “need to be understood in detail” – suggest “Kappan used to work for SIMI”. As further evidence, the STF has pointed to records in his mobile phone which show conversations between Kappan and former members of SIMI.
A journalist’s right to research
According to the UP STF, “these data and documents have apprised us of the journalistic ways of Kappan. Siddique Kappan was associated solely with communal journalism meant to incite Muslims. Presence of documents related to banned organisation SIMI suggest that he was working on SIMI ideology in the form of a think tank for PFI [Popular Front of India].”
The chargesheet also says that on December 8, 2020, the STF had reached out to different police stations to gather more information regarding PFI and its student wing, the Campus Front of India. First information reports from nine districts in UP, filed between 2019 and 2020, have been listed in the chargesheet later. In all of them, PFI members are among the accused.
“All the above cases relate to incidents of caste and communal clashes. PFI members have formed gangs which are working to damage national unity and integrity,” says the investigating officer in this note.
The UP STF’s contention is that in October 2020, when he was arrested, Kappan had been on his way to Hathras to “incite caste violence” in a similar fashion. The recovered documents are being presented as evidence of intent, but the chargesheet is not able to specify what makes the documents objectionable.
It is also worth noting that even if the recovered documents could be described as banned literature – which they are not – possessing them is not evidence of sedition.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Justice K Chandru, former judge at the Madras High Court, said, “Possession of banned literature by itself cannot be an offence under UAPA. The pieces collected to prosecute look ridiculous and show the mediocre understanding of law on the subject by UP STF.”
Recently, the Supreme Court granted bail in a where journalism student Thwaha Fasal was charged for the possession of Maoist literature. “The material prima facie establishes association of the accused with a terrorist organisation CPI (Maoist) and their support to the organisation,” the court said. “However, there is no material to show that they had intention to further the activities of the terror group.”
Justice Chandru said Kappan’s case raised questions of the police’s ability to investigate alleged political offences.
“Most of the time I have seen police trained in tackling law and order and IPC-related crime detection are unable to deal with political offences. In their understanding, mere possession of so-called banned organisation’s literature is itself an offence whereas the courts have ruled otherwise,” he said.
He further added that Kappan being a journalist should also be taken into consideration. “Though in our country the press is not accorded a higher right to freedom of expression, even with the limited rights available, you cannot prosecute a journalist for having conversation with activists of a banned outfit,” said Justice Chandru.
Why are these booklets suspicious?
Since the UP STF has flagged the booklets recovered from Kappan, here’s what we know about these titles.
The 26-page Rehearsed truths: Eight successive bans on SIMI by UAPA tribunals and 36-page Banned and Damned: SIMI saga with UAPA tribunals are PUDR publications, published in 2020 and 2015 respectively.
Rehearsed Truths: Eight successive bans on SIMI by UAPA Tribunals analyses how special tribunals, constituted by the central government, have upheld the ban on SIMI since 2001. The report raises questions regarding the culpability of SIMI members who have been previously accused of terrorism.
Among the examples cited in Rehearsed Truths are the cases of Abdul Subhan Qureshi (alias Tauqueer) and Ehtesham Qutubuddin Siddiqui. Qureshi was arrested by the Delhi police in January 2018 and is suspected of being involved in the Mumbai train bombings of July 2006 as well as the 2008 serial blasts in Delhi and Gujarat. Siddiqui allegedly spoke of Tauqeer’s links with SIMI in a disclosure statement.
Quoting a story by journalist Josy Joseph, published in the newspaper DNA in 2008, Rehearsed Truths says, “Josy Joseph had queried that the entire theory around Tauqeer is based on interrogation reports, which have not much credibility in a court of law and even among many investigators.”
Rehearsed Truths also points to a done by journalist Praveen Swami for the Indian Express in 2017, in which Swami confirmed that in connection with the death sentences awarded to six accused in Mumbai serial bomb blasts case, “both forensic data and the testimony of suspects under interrogation contain evidence that these three attacks were, in fact, carried out by the Indian Mujahideen – and not the individuals charged.”
Rehearsed Truths is in public domain and can be from PUDR’s official website. A copy of this report is part of the annexures in the chargesheet.
Banned and Damned: SIMI’s Saga with UAPA Tribunals is the second PUDR booklet that is part of the chargesheet. As by the Hindu, “the report points to the continuing trend of acquittals of arrested SIMI activists in trial courts”.
In a joint statement, Vikas Kumar and Radhika Chitkara, secretaries of PUDR, told Newslaundry, “As a civil liberties organisation, PUDR regularly published reports on the functioning of extraordinary laws such as the UAPA, TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act] , POTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act], MCOCA [Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act], etc. The booklets do not seek to question the ban [on SIMI] per se, as much as analyse the inadequacy of safeguards under the [UAPA] Act for organisations declared unlawful, through analysing the functioning of Tribunals.”
Also among the allegedly suspicious material is the 26-page research paper titled Detrimental to the peace, integrity and secular fabric of India, published by JNU’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance. Authored by Mayur Suresh and Jawahar Raja, the paper examines the problem of credible confessional statements. It notes the arguments of lawyers representing SIMI members, who have said the statements are inadmissible under of the Evidence Act.
It is not clear why this research paper, which is also in public domain, led the UP STF to link Kappan with SIMI.
The connection between PFI and SIMI
The 45-page document that the UP STF recovered from Kappan’s laptop on January 20, 2021 is titled Reny Notes on SIMI. It contains testimonies of former members and presidents of SIMI. A translation of this document has been attached to the chargesheet, but it is mostly incoherent.
The STF received a translation of the booklet in Malayalam, which was recovered from Kappan’s residence, on December 10, 2020. A daily diary entry suggests the text of the booklet is based on interactions with SIMI members and provides an overview of the banned group’s functioning and ideology. A page-wise summary is also provided.
The first 10 pages are about the beginnings of SIMI, which was founded by Sheikh Mohammed Karakunnu, who was influenced by Iran's in 1979. On page 6, there is mention of “ a notice stating cut them as sacrifices” and a slogan “Indian liberation through Islam only”, which the UP STF has held up as evidence of SIMI spreading Islamic terror. The STF has also pointed out that on page 9, SIMI’s cordial ties with Naxal and Dalit groups are mentioned.
Other pages that have caught the STF’s attention are page 22, where “secularism has been suggested to be an imaginary thing” and page 31, which includes the slogan, “Welcome Mohammed Gazni”. Page 42 says posters that read “Welcome Ghazni, Babri Masjid is awaiting” were put up at a convention organised in Mumbai, in 1991, to which two members of the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas were allegedly invited. On page 39, the booklet says that after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, SIMI’s belief in the spirit of India’s constitution, secularism and democracy was lost. This is what motivated the change in SIMI’s perspective, according to the booklet, as summarised by UP STF.
That Kappan had this booklet in his home suggests to the STF that he was working in collusion with SIMI.
“Markings by pen at different places in the document suggests that Kappan was preparing this document,” says the investigating officer in the chargesheet. “As an intellectual member of PFI think tank he was trying to downplay SIMI and their involvement in terror activities.”
The alleged connection between PFI and SIMI is premised upon the information given by a mukhbir, or police informant, on December 4, 2020. In the chargesheet, the UP STF says that through their informant, they came to know that most members of PFI were former members of SIMI.
“They [PFI members] have been following the agenda of SIMI. In order to promote Islamic radicalism they are even getting funds from within as well as outside India,” alleges the investigating officer in their note.
Speaking to Newslaundry, general secretary of PFI Anis Ahmed said, “There are leaders in our organisation who were in SIMI during their youth, when SIMI was not a banned organisation. Similarly, we have leaders and cadres in our movement who were active in Congress, Muslim League, Left parties and other secular parties. That does not make us a regrouping of those parties or organisations.”
Ahmed rubbished the allegation that PFI was a regrouping of SIMI. “This allegation is absurd because SIMI was banned in 2001 and NDF [National Development Front], the predecessor of PFI, was formed in 1993. No such links have been found so far by any investigation agency,” he said.