New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh police’s special task force (STF) has chargesheeted eight people, including Popular Front of India’s students’ wing leader K.A. Rauf Sherif and journalist Siddique Kappan, in a Mathura court on charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy, funding of terror activities and other offences, news reports said.
According to the New Indian Express, the others named in the chargesheet are Atiqur Rehman, Mohammad Danish, Alam, Masood Ahmad, Feroz Khan and Asad Badruddin. They have been accused of receiving funds to the tune of Rs 80 lakh from financial institutions based in Muscat and Doha for the purpose of creating unrest and riots in Uttar Pradesh.
They are members of the Campus Front of India (CFI), the student wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI), the news reports said. However, Kappan’s lawyers and journalists’ bodies from Kerala have repeatedly said that the reporter has no links with the PFI. PFI too has said Kappan is not a member of the organisation.
While five of the accused were present in the court, Badruddin and Khan attended the hearing through video conferencing.
According to LiveLaw, defence counsel Madhuban Dutt said that they will consider moving the high court after going through the 5,000-page chargesheet.
The accused have been chargesheeted under Indian Penal Code sections of 153 (A) promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language), 124(A) (sedition), 295 (A) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) and 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), the defence counsel told LiveLaw.
The report added that they have also been charged with sections 17 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) related to raising funds for terror acts and various sections of the IT Act.
According to LiveLaw, the defence counsel claimed that Badruddin and Khan have been falsely implicated in an alleged case of serial blasts in Lucknow and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh. They are lodged in Lucknow jail.
The report further said that the counsel alleged Kappan, who has diabetes and Rahman, who is a heart patient, were denied food for 24 hours in Mathura jail. “They were not served any food after 5.00 pm on Friday till 4.30 pm of Saturday while they were in the court,” the counsel said, according to the report.
The case will be next heard on May 1.
UP’s proposal to ban PFI
On October 5, 2020, the STF had arrested Kappan and three others (Rehman, Ahmad and Alam) in Mathura while they were on their way to Hathras for covering the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman by four upper caste men.
The FIR against them claimed that they were going to Hathras with an intention “to breach the peace” as part of a “conspiracy”.
Uttar Pradesh Police in its affidavit alleged that Kappan was using a journalist cover by showing identity card of a Kerela-based newspaper, which was closed in 2018. However, in January, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists told the Supreme Court that UP Police’s statement about Kappan being the office secretary of PFI is “false and incorrect”.
In February, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed its first chargesheet against the PFI and its students’ wing on charges of money laundering, claiming its members wanted to “incite communal riots and spread terror” in the aftermath of the Hathras gang rape case. However, PFI issued a statement saying Kappan and four others named in the chargesheet are not its members.
Formed in 2006 as a federation of the National Development Fund (NDF), PFI calls itself a socio-political movement that works towards the empowerment of the Muslims and other marginalised sections of society.
According to the Indian Express, the NDF was formed in Kerala in 1993 and subsequently emerged as the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) in Karnataka.
The organisation has been accused of multiple violent and extremist incidents by different state governments. In 2020, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in UP had written to the Ministry of Home Affairs recommending a ban on PFI. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath had alleged PFI’s involvement in “masterminding” violence during the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens.
Nineteen PFI members were arrested in December 2019 by Lucknow Police charging them with possession of inflammatory literature, posters, CDs and banners. However, due to lack of any “substantial evidence”, they were granted bail.
In 2019, the Jharkhand government had banned the PFI in the state under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1908. Earlier, the state government had banned the organisation in 2018, however, the Jharkhand high court had set aside the government notification saying it had not been published in the gazette after PFI member Abdul Badud challenged the order banning the organisation.
In 2020, when anti-CAA protests were at their peak in the country, the Centre had decided to defer a ban on PFI.