The shadow of suspicion

Print edition : December 08, 2001

A journalist with the Tamil weekly Nakkheeran is arrested on charges of maintaining links with the brigand Veerappan.

THE arrest of P. Sivasubramanian, a reporter with the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, on charges related to alleged links with the forest brigand Veerappan, has developed into a major controversy.

Sivasubramanian is reported to have been taken away from Athur in Salem district on November 20. Eyewitnesses told the police that about six persons, looking like policemen, accosted him near his house, covered his face with a piece of cloth, pushed him into a waiting vehicle and sped away.

(From left) P. Sivasubramanian, Nakkheeran Gopal and Rajkumar in Veerappan's forest hideout in 2000.-NAKKHEERAN

Nakkheeran

The Karnataka police, however, claimed that Sivasubramanian was arrested as he was roaming in the forests near Kollegal in the State. Reports in Kannada newspapers and The New Indian Express quoted P. Harishekharan, Superinten- dent of Police, Chamarajanagar district, as saying that the Karnataka Special Task Force (STF) had seized guns, bullets and 20 gelatine sticks on November 22 on information provided by Sivasubraman- ian. They had been buried in the Kongarakadu forests. Harishekharan alleged that the reporter had established communication links with Veerappan and that he and Gopal, editor of Nakkheeran, had colluded with Veerappan in his criminal activities. According to the Karnataka police, Sivasubramanian was aware of Veerappan's plan to abduct Kannada film actor Rajkumar. The Tamil Nadu police alleged that the journalist had been a "conduit" between Veerappan and Tamil extremists who together abducted Rajkumar.

The Karnataka police filed two cases against Sivasubramanian. In the first information report (FIR) filed at Ramapura police station in Chamarajanagar district, the police charged him with offences under Sections 212 (harbouring offender) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. Two days later, they filed another FIR against him at the Chamarajanagar (West) police station for offences under IPC Sections 212, 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), 216-A (penalty for harbouring robbers or dacoits); Sections 27 and 325 of the Arms Act; and Sections 3, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act.

SIVASUBRAMANIAN was the first journalist to obtain an exclusive interview with Veerappan in April 1993. This was published in Nakkheeran with photographs when the hunt for Veerappan by the STFs was on for months. Gopal and Sivasubramanian were the official emissaries of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments to negotiate with Veerappan when he abducted ten Karnataka Forest Department personnel in July 1997, and Rajkumar on July 30, 2000.

Gopal alleged that the STFs of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were behind the arrest because his magazine had exposed their atrocities against the tribal people living in the forests.

Gopal said: "This is the gift given by the Karnataka police to Sivasubramanian, who played an important role in the release of Rajkumar and Karnataka Forest Department personnel when they were abducted by Veerappan." He was angry that he was not allowed to meet Sivasubramanian after the arrest. Gopal said that while the FIR filed at Ramapura police station accused him of committing offences which were bailable, the police subsequently used sections of the Arms Act relating to non-bailable offences. (A court in Kollegal granted bail to Sivasubramanian in the first case.)

According to Gopal, Sivasubramanian was targeted because he had helped in exposing the STFs' atrocities. "We did our duty as journalists. And the STF was wreaking vengeance against us," he added. On the Karnataka police's claim that arms and ammunition were recovered from the forests, Gopal asked how Sivasubramanian could have given "their exact location in the vast and dense Mysore forests". He said that this proved that the police had extracted a false confession from the reporter. Gopal alleged that since the Karnataka policemen came in a vehicle with a Tamil Nadu registration number, it was obvious that they had the cooperation of the Tamil Nadu police.

Gopal said that one of the terms agreed to by the two governments to send him, Sivasubramanian and other Nakkheeran staff as emissaries "for rescuing" Rajkumar, was that "no criminal prosecution will be set in motion against Gopal and his associates on any future date in respect of any of their activity during this mission." It had also been agreed that "Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates shall be given immunity against penal provisions if any of their activity is secretive or contrary to obligations under law."

However, Naresh Gupta, Home Secretary, Tamil Nadu, said the terms did not constitute "a blanket assurance". They were made "at a specific point of time for 'a specific purpose'." They could not be valid for all time, Gupta asserted. He said that the Tamil Nadu government was awaiting a report from the Karnataka government on the arrest and interrogation of Sivasubramanian.

Meanwhile, on November 30, the Madras High Court adjourned to December 7 the hearing on a writ petition filed by Gopal seeking anticipatory bail. In his petition, Gopal said that the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) had registered a case after Rajkumar's abduction in July 2000 but the police were taking steps now to arrest him in connection with that case. Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, who appeared for Gopal, said the case was not a recent one. His client was a responsible journalist and he was not absconding. The police were trying to implicate him in that case and arrest him now.

A new dimension was added to the arrest when the assistant film director, Nagappa, who opted to go with Rajkumar when the latter was abducted, held a press conference in Bangalore. Nagappa alleged that when he tried to kill Veerappan, it was Gopal who prevented it. (He attacked Veerappan with a sickle and escaped from captivity.) Gopal retorted: "Assuming what Nagappa says is true, how can my preventing him from killing Veerappan be a crime?" If Nagappa had killed Veerappan, the gang "would have slaughtered all the hostages including Rajkumar. As the official emissary of the two State governments, isn't it my duty to ensure the safety of the hostages?" He wondered why all kinds of allegations were being made against him and Sivasubramanian one year after Rajkumar was set free.

Opinion is divided on whether the police from one State can go to another State to arrest a person without the knowledge of the top police officers of the other State. An advocate said that if the police had registered a case against a person, they could execute the arrest warrant in any State. However, he added that this could be done only with the concurrence of top police officers of both the States.

Asked about Harishekharan's allegations, B.P. Nailwal, Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu, said: "I do not know whether any such allegations have been made. They are subject to investigation." Nailwal said there is no legal requirement that police belonging to one State should inform their counterparts in another State if they want to arrest a person there. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the IPC were applicable all over the country. He pointed out that the Tamil Nadu police arrested 'auto' Shankar, an accused in a multiple murder case, from Orissa without informing the Orissa police. However, Nailwal added that "it would have been better" if the Karnataka police "had informed us" about Sivasubramanian's arrest.

Meanwhile, on November 17, A.S. Mani, editor of the Tamil magazine Nettrikann, claimed that Veerappan had sent him an audio cassette offering to surrender if the two States agreed to his demands. But Veerappan wanted the STF to pull out of the forest first. While Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam said Veerappan was welcome to surrender in any police station, the Karnataka government had rejected the "offer".

Journalists in Chennai reacted angrily to Sivasubramanian's arrest. On November 27, they organised a demonstration which was also to protest the arrest of another journalist, V. Kadiravan, a reporter with the Tamil magazine Kumudam Reporter, and against the clamping down of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) by the Centre.

The police in Salem filed a case against Kadiravan on a complaint from M. Prabakaran, whose allegedly illegal activities had been exposed by Kadiravan in Kumudam Reporter. Undeterred by the police filing a case against Kadiravan for exposing the alleged racket run by Prabakaran at Salem and Tiruchi, Kumudam Reporter ran more articles. The magazine alleged that the Superintendent of Police, Salem, S. Ramanathan, had failed to take action against Prabakaran when a person had complained against him and that the police officer was targeting Kadiravan. Ultimately Ramanathan was transferred and Prabakaran was arrested by Tiruchi police at Salem on November 25 on a complaint given by a Tiruchi resident.

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