This is the seventh 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 among the findings that led the UP Police’s special task force to conclude Kappan was “part of PFI [Popular Front of India] delegation which was on its way to Hathras on 5 October to incite violence” is a cash transfer of Rs 20,000 on October 4, 2020.
The PFI has denied making any such payment to Kappan while Kappan has told the UP STF it was money he had borrowed from friends. As Newslaundry has previously reported, the UP STF’s other submissions include and , whose legal validity is questionable.
Foreign funds for PFI?
On December 13, 2020, PFI’s student wing leader Rouf Sharif was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate from Thiruvananthapuram airport, following allegations of money laundering. A month earlier in November, the UP police had also issued a look-out circular for Sharif.
While Sharif was granted bail in the money laundering case after he submitted to a court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act that some of his earnings as a commission agent for masks and sanitisers came from the Middle East, the UP police took Sharif into custody for allegedly securing funds from foreign countries “to aid illegal activities of PFI”.
In their chargesheet, the STF flagged 150 entries from Rouf Sharif’s ICICI bank account, which “included deposits of more than Rs 10,000” and have been deemed suspicious. At least 10 are cash transfers that amount to more than Rs 1 lakh and are from foreign countries.
Of around Rs 1 crore deposited in Sharif’s account between 2018 and 2020, Rs 28 lakh came from depositors in other countries. In its chargesheet, the UP STF has pointed to the money laundering charges against Sharif to justify applying of the UAPA – raising funds for terrorist acts – to Kappan’s case.
PFI’s general secretary Anis Ahmed has denied his organisation receives any funds from foreign countries.
“The story of Rouf bringing foreign funds to PFI is completely fake. No such transaction in our bank accounts has been proved in any investigation,” said Ahmed.
He further added, “Our fund collection is done through public fund drives within the country.”
The Sharif connection
To establish a connection between Kappan and Sharif, the UP STF has submitted a daily diary entry dated November 5, 2020 and confessional statements by Sharif. It should be noted that statements under 161 CrPC have little evidentiary value. Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act says if a confession appears to the court to have been “caused by inducement, threat or promise”, it will be considered “irrelevant”.
The investigating officer’s diary entry dated November 5, 2020, mentions probing bank accounts of Siddique Kappan, Atikur Rahman, Masood Ahmed and Alam. It claims that the day before their arrest, on October 4, 2020, Sharif had transferred Rs 5,000 into Atikur Rahman’s account.
The UP STF’s chargesheet includes two statements by Sharif, recorded on two different dates.
In the first, recorded on February 16, 2021, Sharif says he has been a member of Campus Front of India, the student wing of PFI, since 2013.
“The Indian government keeps an eye on PFI that’s why they don’t go about funding directly. Hawala or other mediums are used for funding. Since the Hawala route was closed during lockdown that’s why some funds were sent to my account,” Sharif has been quoted as saying in his statement.
Ahmed, PFI’s general secretary, has described the UP STF’s allegation of hawala transactions as “imaginary”.
Sharif in his first statement has also said the funding is done to “boost activities related to Muslim radicalisation” and that “Siddique Kappan prepares an atmosphere for Muslims and PFI.”
Sharif is also quoted as saying PFI has a “hard core” team at the district levels, which imparts physical training to 25 members, including “use of weapons, knife, sword along with use of chemical and petrol bombs”. While talking about PFI members who are tasked with spreading “hatred against non-Muslims on social media”, Sharif once again names Kappan. “Siddique Kappan works among media personnel,” says Sharif’s statement.
In Sharif’s second statement, recorded on February 18, 2021, Sharif mentions PFI’s “hit squads”. As by Newslaundry earlier, PFI has denied the existence of these squads, but another confessional statement by co-accused Ansad Badruddin claims the organisations has “hit squads” that carry out acts of arson during riots. The chargesheet does not provide concrete examples of these hit squads’ activities or targets.
Sharif also talks in greater detail about PFI’s alleged plan regarding Hathras.
“After the incident of , PFI had activated its members to spread misinformation regarding atrocities committed by Hindus on Dalits,” reads Sharif’s statement. He has further added that PFI was looking at the incident as “an opportunity and hence, a delegation was being sent to Hathras.”
According to Sharif’s statement, he transferred Rs 5,000 to Atikur Rahman and Rs 20,000 cash was deposited into Kappan’s account by Kamal KP, a PFI member.
Newslaundry contacted Kamal KP about depositing Rs 20,000 in Kappan’s account on October 4, 2020, and Kamal denied doing so. “I didn’t deposit any amount in the bank account of Kappan,” he said.
Kappan’s lawyer Wills Mathews has reserved comment on the alleged relationship between Sharif and Kappan, saying he still hasn’t got a copy of the chargesheet.
During an interrogation session conducted on March 2, 2021, Kappan was asked about his income and the cash transfer of Rs 20,000. Here is the transcript:
Q: In Delhi, apart from journalism, do you have any other source of income?
A: Earlier at Thejas my monthly salary was Rs 26,500. At Azhimukham, I was getting Rs 25,000. I don’t have any other source of income. I also used to send pieces to a monthly Malayalam magazine, Prasadgan, for which I used to get Rs 2000 per article. All this amount used to be credited to my SBI account.
Q: On 4 October 2020, a cash deposit of Rs 20,000 was made in your account. Who deposited this money and why?
A: I had borrowed money from my friends.
When asked who these friends are, Kappan did not reveal their names to the UP STF.
When contacted for a response regarding the statement by Rouf Sharif, Kappan’s lawyer, Wills Mathews said, “confessional statements are not admissible as evidence unless backed by cogent supporting evidence.”
Newslaundry asked Kamal if Kappan had reached out to him seeking financial help in October 2020 and Kamal said “No”.
There are cash transactions done through Sharif’s ICICI bank account on behalf of Nofal Sharif, a resident of Doha and Ramiz Ali of Oman, which have been flagged by UP STF. “Purpose of remittance has been shown as family maintenance and saving along with commission received in trading of masks but the accused could not produce the required document,” the investigating officer has said in the chargesheet.
The chargesheet concludes that from the pattern of deposits in Sharif’s ICICI bank account, it is clear that “Rouf Sharif used to receive money from foreign countries in order to aid illegal activities of PFI.” The UP STF has further said of PFI, “This is a terror group whose aim is to spread communal tension and violence in order to damage national unity and integrity.
Sharif’s two other accounts, in Axis Bank and Federal Bank, are being probed by ED in a money laundering case filed in December 2020. After Sharif’s arrest at Thiruvananthapuram airport, the ED had “Sharif had funded the Hathras trip of Siddique Kappan and three others.”
The UP STF’s chargesheet also includes a statement by an ED official named Vinay Kumar Baliyan, recorded on March 12, 2021, who is quoted as saying, “In the year 2015, at a National Executive Meeting of PFI in Chennai, Siddique Kappan along with one more person was entrusted with the task of conducting a seminar.”
When asked about Kappan participating in a meeting organised in 2015 by PFI, general secretary Anis Ahmed said, “PFI has never given any responsibility to Kappan to organize our seminars. We reach out to many activists, journalists and thinkers to join our programmes as speakers or provide suggestions.”
Central to the UP STF’s chargesheet is the allegation that Kappan’s journalism is a front for his anti-Hindu agenda. Yet, arguably, one of the WhatsApp messages included in the chargesheet offers evidence to the contrary.
Sometime in 2018, when Kappan was working for Thejas Daily (which, according to the UP STF, is a PFI mouthpiece), he sent a message to a friend. A translation of the original in Malayalam reads as follows:
“Last few days, KH Nassr sahib called me 3 times to remind me of the ethics in journalism, sorry, I am not aware of journalism’s ethics, but have considered journalism as a mission… that I will continue… I do not believe ethics has any relevance there.”
KH Nassr was formerly an editor at Thejas Daily. The question of ethics had come up in conversation because Kappan had approached another Malayalam newspaper, Thalsamayam, for a job and evidently, Nassr was trying to dissuade Kappan from leaving by arguing it was unethical to look for a job with another newspaper.
Presumably if Kappan’s only interest had been furthering a communal agenda and Thejas Daily really was a mouthpiece for a communal organisation, then Kappan wouldn’t have been looking to leave. It seems from the chargesheet that the UP STF would rather focus on (and misinterpret) Kappan saying “I am not aware of journalism’s ethics” rather than acknowledge his assertion that he considers journalism a “mission”.