THE matter of the arrest of R.R. Gopal, the Editor of the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) is getting curiouser and curiouser. The Crime Branch - Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID), which arrested him seems to be adopting "shock and awe" tactics, with its revelations of seizure of firearms, ammunition, gelatine sticks and imported walkie-talkie sets from the forests near Thimmam in Tamil Nadu. The CB-CID said that Gopal showed the police on April 26 where they were buried. On April 30, the CB-CID raided the office of Nakkheeran, and the homes of Gopal and associate editor A. Kamaraj, all in Chennai, and also the house of Gopal's parents at Aruppukottai. Kamaraj said that the police found nothing at Aruppukottai. What the police seized in Chennai, such as books published by the magazine, press releases from journalists' organisations, pictures of the forest brigand Veerappan often published in Nakkheeran, video cassettes of family functions and so on were not illegal material and had nothing to do with any case, Kamaraj said.
The CB-CID first arrested Gopal on the night of April 11 in Chennai as an accused in the alleged murder of a police informant, Rajamani, by Veerappan in 1998. It filed another case against Gopal under the Arms Act and Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with sedition. The CB-CID claimed that at the time of his arrest, the Editor had in his possession an unlicensed revolver with ammunition and a pamphlet in support of a banned extremist organisation, the Tamil National Liberation Army (TNLA). On April 16, Section 4(a) of POTA, which deals with "possession of certain unauthorised arms" and so on, in a notified area, was invoked against Gopal. The Tamil Nadu government had declared the entire State a "notified area" from December 2002 (Frontline, May 9, 2003).
On April 22, the Special Court trying cases under POTA granted the police custody of Gopal for a week. A CB-CID press note claimed that during the interrogation that followed, Gopal confessed to his association with Veerappan and his active support to the TNLA and the Tamil Nadu Retrieval Troops (TNRT), another banned organisation. Based on his "confessions", the press note said, the investigating team along with Gopal and two independent witnesses, went to Erode. It claimed that on April 26, on being "identified" by Gopal, the CB-CID seized several items. These included one Webley and Scott gun made in England; one country-made weapon; ammunition for single barrel guns; 123 gelatine sticks; 150 electrical detonators used in explosive devices; one telescope used for fixing on guns; two walkie-talkies,one made in Japan and another in Singapore; and a polythene sheet used for making tents. According to Gopal's "confession", these materials were intended to be supplied to the cadres of the TNLA/TNRT, the press note claimed.
Gopal was produced before L. Rajendran, Judge of the Special Court trying POTA cases on April 28 at Poonamallee near Chennai.
At the instance of the Judge, Gopal wrote a 14-page statement in the court hall, elaborating on how the police interrogated him. Rajendran extended Gopal's remand in judicial custody till May 23. As Gopal was about to be driven to the Central Prison in Chennai, he raised his voice to tell reporters that the CB-CID had foisted false cases on him and that no article mentioned in Form 95 was recovered from him.
In a press release on April 26, Kamaraj alleged that the police had threatened Gopal at gun point, in the forests near Sathyamangalam. Kamaraj quoted Gopal as having said that he was forced to pose with a bag, brought by the police, for photographs. When he refused, he was threatened that he would be shot, and the police told him that courts would accept their version that he was shot while trying to escape, Kamaraj quoted Gopal as having said. Kamaraj added that Gopal had refused to sign on blank papers. He was kept in the police lock-up at Chintadripet, Chennai on April 22, 23 and 24 and was allowed to wear only his undergarment, the associate editor said.
Kamaraj pointed out that when the Karnataka police had "abducted" Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramanian from near his home at Athur, Salem in Tamil Nadu, they had claimed that they had arrested him when he was roaming in the jungles.
The police took him to the forests and claimed that weapons were recovered after Sivasubramanian showed where they were buried in the forests. A fact-finding committee of journalists later found that Sivasubramanian had been "abducted' from near his home by the police.
Likewise, Kamaraj alleged, the police had "abducted" Gopal about 100 feet away from Nakkheeran's office in Chennai before filing false cases against him.