Friday, March 1, 2024

40 organisations express concern over Kerala Police FIR against Maktoob report

Rejaz M

At least 40 organisations, including civil society groups and student movements, released a joint statement expressing solidarity with Maktoob and freelance journalist Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek, who was booked by Kerala Police for his story on Maktoob, highlighting alleged anti-Muslim bias by Kerala Police.

On 31 October, the police filed a case against Sydeek in connection with a report that he wrote for Maktoob. The article, published on 30 October, alleged that in the aftermath of the blasts in Ernakulam district, the police detained several Muslim men for hours. The police in the Kozhikode Rural district booked Sydeek under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with “giving provocation with the intent to cause a riot.”

On 16 November, the police summoned and interrogated Aslah Kayyalakkath, the editor of Maktoob, in connection with the case. A day after, Sydeek was brought for questioning at the Vadakara police station where his phone and SIM card were seized. Maktoob’s deputy editor Shaheen Abdulla was also questioned by the cops.

“The FIR threatens the journalistic independence of reporting stories without reprisal. The case reflects on the accusations made in the report under investigation. Maktoob has been singled out for reporting an important story that holds police accountable. The News outlet reports on multiple institutions and issues around the world daily,” said Shameer Ibrahim, CEO of Maktoob.

Maktoob said it stands by the report and the reporter who is facing an arbitrary police investigation.

“We plan to challenge the phone seizure in court and seek the quashing of the FIR by approaching the Kerala High Court,” Ibrahim said.

Read the full text of the statement:

On November 16, 2023, information came to light that an FIR had been filed against independent journalist Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek from Kerala for an article he wrote for Maktoob Media regarding the 2023 Kalamassery blast on October 30, 2023. The FIR was originally filed the day after the article was written, under Indian Penal Code Section 153 (wanton provocation with the intent to incite riot). When called for questioning, Sydeek and and Maktoob Media Founder Editor Aslah Kayyalakkath were told that non-bailable charges may also be filed against Aslah based on the rounds of questioning. The article, still available at MaktoobMedia.com titled “In Kerala, Muslim youths detained for hours following blast; accuse Kerala Police of anti-Muslim bias,” brings to light how the Kerala police had initially detained two Muslim youths Abdul Sathar and Nizam Panayikkulam after suspecting the two to be behind the blasts at the Jehova’s Witness Christian sect’s prayer meeting based on little evidence when it was later discovered that the blasts were allegedly orchestrated by the unrelated Martin Dominic who was previously a member of the Jehova’s Witness community. Apart from these two individuals, five more Muslim men from the same district were kept in preventive custody, with Rejaz conducting an investigative report highlighting how the Muslims in the region were assumed as suspects with little cause except for their Islamic identity. On 17th November 2023, Sydeek was brought for questioning at the Vadakara police station where his phone and SIM card were seized. The repression against Maktoob Media and independent journalists raising pro-people concerns is par for the course all over the country, with Kerala being no exception.

The case against Sydeek and Maktoob Media is already on problematic grounds, with the Vadakara police of Kozhikode district taking up the case even though the reporting itself was done from Ernakulam district, a contravention of India’s Criminal Procedure Code. It is highly ironic that the media outlet and journalist reporting on the case of a Muslim bias by the state government and its police are targeted while hailing from the same community. With Brahmanical Hindutva fascism’s rise, the attacks against Muslims and independent pro-people democratically-minded journalists have intensified, be it the heinous murder of Gauri Lankesh in 2016, the arrest of journalist Gautam Navlakha in the fabricated Bhima Koregaon case as well as the arrest of independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh under UA(P)A for reporting on the false encounters and arrests of Adivasis. Even the originally accused of the Kalamassery blasts have a history of wrongful arrests, with Nizam Panayikkulam being acquitted in a fabricated case related to the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), with the Supreme Court affirming his acquittal just this year. Similarly, Abdul Sathar was also acquitted in the 2008 Ahmedabad blast case but was still picked up as first suspect for this case. Even when they managed to fend off false charges in the court, serving nearly a decade in jail during the process, they were still assumed as first suspects by the police in the name of the draconian process of preventive detention. The subsequent repression upon Maktoob Media and Sydeek is part of the same tendencies of Brahmanical Hindutva fascism reflecting in Kerala as well.

Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) condemns the undemocratic repression of Maktoob Media and Rejaz M. Sheeba Sydeek.

CASR demands the immediate quashing of the FIR filed against Maktoob Media and Rejaz M. Sheeba Sydeek and an end to all undemocratic repression of persons from oppressed communities. CASR demands an immediate end of the repression upon independent pro-people journalists.

Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) constituents AIRSO, AISA, AISF, APCR, BASF, BSM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, bsCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, Forum Against Repression Telangana, Fraternity, IAPL, Innocence Network, Karnataka Janashakti, LAA, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, Nishant Natya Manch, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Smajwadi Lok Manch, Bahujan Samjavadi Manch, SFI, United Against Hate, United Peace Alliance, WSS and Y4S.

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