A Delhi-based journalist working for Malayalam news portals was among four people arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police when they were on their way to Hathras.
The arrests came hours after the State police, under fire for their handling of the Hathras rape and murder case, had claimed there was a conspiracy to defame the State government and trigger caste riots over the Hathras incident.
The four were taken into custody at a toll plaza in Mathura when they were travelling in a car from Delhi to Hathras, said police late on Monday. The car was stopped after police found their activities suspicious, following which they were taken into custody, added the Mathura police.
The four were identified as Ateeq-ur-Rehman, Siddiqui Kappan, Masood Ahmed and Alam. Mr. Kappan is a journalist working for several Malayalam media houses and had reportedly gone to Hathras to cover the case on Monday.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists, in a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, has demanded the release of Mr. Kappan, saying he was trying to perform his duty as a reporter.
“The Hathras police station and State police department have not provided any information so far on taking him into custody,” said Miji Jose, president of the KUWJ.
K. P Reji, president of the KUWJ state committee Thiruvananthapuram, also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for Mr. Kappan's immediate release. "Our relentless efforts to contact him were in vain. The Hathras Police Station and the State Police department has not provided any information so far on taking him into custody," Mr. Reji wrote.
K.N. Ashok, editor of news portal Azhimukham , said Mr. Kappan was a regular contributor and was covering many beats, including politics.
“Yesterday [October 5], early in the morning, he sent a message that he is going to cover Hathras. That is the only information we got from him,” Mr. Ashok said.
Mr. Ashok said that they tried to contact Mr. Kappan in the evening but could not get a response. At night, they got to know that he had been apprehended by the U.P. police, said Mr. Ashok.
Mr. Kappan is also an elected secretary of the KUWJ. “Police have not informed us about the arrest,” Mr. Ashok said.
Ms. Jose also said, “Our efforts and the efforts by some advocates based in Delhi to contact him were not successful.”
The Mathura police said “suspicious literature, one that could have an adverse impact on peace,” was recovered from the four. However, police are yet to reveal the content or state the laws the literature violated.
In their statement, police did not acknowledge that Mr. Kappan is a journalist and claimed that the four in custody were linked to the Popular Front of India and its related group Campus Front of India.
The PFI was last December blamed by the U.P. government for vandalism that took place in Lucknow and other parts of the State during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Further legal action will be taken after questioning the four, said police.
Even after it came to light that Mr. Kappan is a journalist, the U.P. police are yet to issue a clarification.
The Popular Front of India condemned the arrest, terming it deplorable and illegal. The PFI accused the U.P. government of targeting it to hide the failing law and order situation in the State and divert attention from the Hathras issue by creating a “conspiracy theory.”
“Popular Front will not be intimidated by such tactics of suppression by the U.P. government. We demand the immediate release of the CFI leaders and journalist Siddique Kappan,” said Anis Ahmed, general secretary, PFI.
The illegal arrest shows that in U.P., under the Yogi Adityanath government, even intending to meet families of victims is now considered a crime, he added.
Meanwhile, police said that one of the arrested persons Masood Ahmed of Bahraich was a student of Jamia Millia Islamia University and that, if required, economic intelligence agencies would be roped into probe the "foreign funding" angle. His messages, linkages and data obtained from him would be probed, said an officer.