By Anwarulhaq Baig
New Delhi, Nov. 19: In a startling move on National Press Day, the Editor of an award-winning news portal, Maktoob Media, has been summoned and interrogated by Kerala cops in connection with an FIR filed against its journalist for highlighting the alleged anti-Muslim biases within the police force following the Ernakulam blast last month.
Rejaz M Sheeba Sydeek, a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Maktoob Media, was booked by the Kerala police under IPC 153, which pertains to provocation with intent to cause a riot, for a report highlighting the alleged anti-Muslim bias in the state following the detention of Muslim youths reportedly without any evidence in connection with a series of blasts on October 29, at a religious convention of the little known Christian sect, Jehovah’s Witnesses, at the Kalamassery town of Ernakulam district, Kerala.
The blasts, in which at least five people were killed and over 50 injured, ripped through the Zamra International Convention and Exhibition Centre, where around 2,500 worshippers had gathered for a 3-day prayer meeting of the Jehovah’s Witnesses group that rejects traditional Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, and believes in one God. The group, which has about 60,000 followers in India and has been present in the country since 1905, has been a victim of mob attacks and other communal intolerance.
Dominic Martin, a Christian formerly associated with the group, has claimed responsibility for the attack by posting a video on Facebook. He surrendered himself and is being investigated by the police.
Rejaz’s news report. “In Kerala, Muslim Youths Detained for Hours Following Blast; Accuse Kerala Police of Anti-Muslim Bias,” has prompted the police to file the case.
Condemning the action, Maktoob Media CEO Shamseer Ibrahim confirmed in a statement posted on its official social media handler that the Vadakara police interrogated the portal’s editor Aslah Kayyalakkath on Nov. 16 in connection with the FIR.
According to the FIR, the case is registered based on directions from higher officials.
The statement made it clear that the report covered the backlash faced by the Kerala Police for detaining Muslim youth without leads while probing the blast. “The reporter quotes community leaders and advocates who called out institutional bias faced by Muslims in Kerala by law enforcement agencies. The story includes comments from two police officers who were related to the incident. We stand by the report and the reporter who is facing an arbitrary police investigation. We have reached out to the reporter and ensured legal aid from the organisation,” it added.
In a strongly worded statement, posted on its website, the Maktoob Media expressed concern over the potential threat to journalistic independence, asserting that the FIR challenges the freedom to report stories without fear of reprisal.
Calling upon the Kerala government to quash what the statement describes as an “arbitrary case” in order to safeguard the safety and freedom of journalists in the state, it pointed out that Maktoob had been singled out for reporting an important story that held the police accountable. Maktoob, in its statement, says that it is an award-winning Indian news media that focuses on human rights and minorities and has built a reputation for high editorial standards and upholds credibility and integrity as its core values.
The media house also said that the police in an unusual move visited Aslah Kayyalakkath’s house despite him showing willingness to cooperate with the investigation. “Unusually, the case is registered in the local station near the residence of the editor,” it added.
Clarifying that his report is based on facts and not a fabricated story, Rejaz stated that he had call records to support his claims and contacted the detained individuals and the Aluva police station to confirm the detention.
In the said report, Rejaz also sheds light on the growing biases against Muslims in mainstream media, together with rising Islamophobic sentiments, particularly targeting Palestinians and Muslims in Kerala.
The report outlines instances where political figures made the communal speeches, targeting Muslim community. Even BJP leader KS Radhakrishnan, according to Rejaz’s report, propagated xenophobia by asserting that Kalamassery is a hub for extremist activities. Furthermore, BJP Kerala President Surendran is accused of fueling hatred against pro-Palestine politics shared by Muslim and Left organizations in Kerala. Surendran suggested that the blast should be viewed in the context of the pro-Palestine and pro-Hamas stance taken by mainstream parties in the state.
Also highlighting the concerning phenomenon of social media trials against Muslims in the blast case, which commenced even before the investigation agencies reached the scene, Rejaz’s reports says “a Facebook page with 489K followers, Indian Military Updates shared fake news that the blast happened because Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal asked the Jamaat-e-Islami supporters to take action against the non-believers.”
The report also accuses several national and Kerala-based channels in perpetuating hatred against Palestinian supporters and Muslims in Kerala by capitalizing on the blast. Among them are Times Now, TV9 Bangla, Sudarshan News, Marunadan Malayali, and Karma News.
Several journalists and media organizations have raised concerns over press freedom in India.