Indian authorities must drop all investigations into freelance journalist Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek over his reporting on allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the police force, return his mobile phone, and cease the harassment of his colleagues at Maktoob Media news website, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.
On October 31, Kerala Police initiated a criminal investigation against Sydeek for “giving provocation with the intent to cause a riot” under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code and took his mobile phone.
Maktoob’s editor and deputy editor were also questioned by the investigating officer who threatened to charge them.
The investigation was in relation to Sydeek’s October 30 news report for Maktoob Media, in which Muslim men who were detained following an explosion at a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention last month accused the police of anti-Muslim bias.
A former member of the congregation claimed responsibility for the blast in which six people were killed.
“Launching a police investigation into Maktoob Media journalists over a report accusing the police of anti-Muslim bias sets a perilous precedent,” said Kunal Majumder, CPJ’s India representative.
“Kerala police must drop their investigation into reporter Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek, return his phone, and allow the press to publish news that is in the public interest.”
On November 16 and 17, the police interrogated Sydeek and Maktoob Media’s founder and editor Aslah Kayyalakkath and took a statement from Maktoob’s deputy editor Shaheen Abdulla.
Sydeek and Abdulla told CPJ that the police took Sydeek’s mobile phone and refused to provide a “hash value,” a unique identifier to ensure the device was not tampered with.
The police threatened Sydeek with additional legal actions including invoking non-bailable sections of the law.
Sydeek told CPJ that he followed due process while filing his report, including by reaching out to police for comment and quoting them in his story.
CPJ stated that they emailed the Kerala director general of police Shaik Darvesh Saheb but did not receive any response.
Earlier, at least 40 organisations, including civil society groups and student movements, released a joint statement expressing solidarity with Maktoob and Sydeek.