Hathras case: A year on, kin of Popular Front of India members arrested by UP Police demand justice
Journalist Siddique Kappan and PFI members Atiq-ur Rehman and Masood Ahmed along with vehicle’s driver Alam were detained by UP Police while on way to Hathras from Delhi on Oct 5, 2020
“My husband has been trapped in a case without any justice. Only the poor and Muslims are being targeted. We have sent several applications. I don’t want anything but justice,” cried Bushra Alam, the wife of Alam, the driver of the vehicle which was taking journalist Siddique Kappan and Popular Front of India members Atiq-ur Rehman and Masood Ahmed to Hathras from Delhi.
Bushra Alam was in the national capital along with Atiq-ur Rehman’s wife Sanjida Rahman and his uncle Shakavath Ali as it has been one year since their arrest. In 2020, the UP police had intercepted the car at a toll plaza to interrogate the occupants, after which they were taken into custody.
Two days later, on October 7, 2020, all four of them were charged them with sedition and under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
All of them were on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh where a Dalit girl was brutally assaulted, gang raped by high caste neighbours and then her body forcibly cremated by the authorities at night without the family’s consent.
A fifth person, Rauf Shareef was later picked up from Kerala in connection with a case of funding and stirring up unrest following the assault and death of the Dalit teenager.
In the meeting organised by Campus Front of India along with the families, Sanjida asserted that it has been a year since the illegal arrest and no hearing had happened in the case. “Why is he being tried now? Is it because he raised his voice for his rights? Is it because he is a Muslim?” asked Sanjida.
She said Atiq-ur Rehman was a heart patient and suffered from a heart condition called Aortic Regurgitation and his surgery was scheduled for November last year. But he was arrested in October before his surgery. “I don’t know what will we tell our two sons who ask for their father. We don’t know if he will come out alive. The court has asked the jail authorities to send him to a heart specialist but he has not been sent,” added Sanjida.
Sanjida and Rehman have two sons aged six and five.
On September 20, the Allahabad High Court had ordered specialised treatment, but the UP government has not addressed the issue. The legal procedures in the matter are still on, said activists at the meeting.
The family had approached the Allahabad High Court for bail but the matter is yet to be listed.
Congress MP L Hanumanthaiah, who was part of the meeting, said it was time for sensible Indians to speak up and not be afraid of the administration. “If sensible Indians and the so-called intellectuals don’t open their mouths it would seem we are not living in a democracy, but moving forward to a fascist country,” asserted the Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka.
Rights activist and DU professor Apoorvanand, who also attended the press conference, explained that the court has a way out. “The courts should accept unnecessary delay as grounds for bail and by doing so, it can free itself from the Watali judgement,” pointed out Apoorvanand.
The Supreme Court in Zahoor Watali case held that bail under section 43D(5) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) can be denied by relying upon prosecution documents even though they would be inadmissible in evidence during the trial. This judgment has draconian consequences.
Before the meeting, members of various journalist unions staged a demonstration outside the Press Club of India (PCI) in Delhi to demand the immediate release of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan who has been charged by the Uttar Pradesh Police with terror offences.