January 30th, 2008
21 January 2008. A World to Win News Service. P. Govindan Kutty, editor of the Indian Maoist monthly magazine People's March, was transferred from jail to hospital 9 January. He had been on hunger strike since 20 December, when he was remanded to prison following his arrest the day before. On 18 January, before the Kerala High Court, the state government opposed the third and latest effort to obtain his freedom on bail. Once again adjusting the charges against him, the authorities have now made the political nature of this case perfectly clear. According to The Hindu (21 January), "In a statement filed in response to his bail petition, the police said there was a possibility of the accused indulging in anti-national activities if he was released on bail. The police said he had been propagating the CPI (Maoist) ideologies and programme and publishing the CPI (Maoist) mouthpiece People's March."
There has been no further news about Kutty's health and the conditions of his imprisonment. His age is variously given as between 60-68.
A group of five Indian human rights activists was able to meet with the journalist in prison 8 January. They told a press conference that after his arrest, Kutty had been permitted to talk to a lawyer only with the authorities present. Acting on "orders from higher authorities," they said, his jailers were force-feeding him glucose after tying his hands and legs. They characterized his treatment as "torture". The next day, the authorities announced that he has been transferred from Viyyur prison to a hospital following what they called the "deterioration" of his state of health.
People's March is a licensed, government-registered publication. It has never before been banned or faced legal proceedings, although it seems to have been outlawed since Kutty's arrest. There is nothing clandestine about it. Kutty has long been publicly identified as its editor, publisher and owner, with his address figuring in the masthead. Calling itself "The Voice of the Indian Revolution", it has never claimed to be an organ of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Some of its articles have been reprinted by the mainstream Indian press.
Apparently the authorities first arrested the editor and then tried to find suitable charges. According to The Hoot, the blog of a Delhi-based media watch group, which has been one of the few sources of information on this case, after Kerala police raided the small office of this journalist, ransacked the premises and confiscated the computer and literature, they initially announced he would be accused of helping two alleged CPI(M) members find shelter. The two, Malla Raya Reddy and Suguna, had been captured in a secret police raid on a group of construction workers from neighbouring Andra Pradesh living alongside a road in Kerala a few days before. The columnist, N. P. Chekkutty, who identifies himself as "a fellow Kerala editor," the hue and cry raised by local people who stopped the police vehicle carrying the two prisoners may be what forced the police to take them to court rather then simply killing them, as often happens in such cases.
However, no evidence of any connection between Ketty and the two arrested persons was ever presented, and no charges seem to have been brought in this regard. Instead, the main accusation against him was that he had written an article five years ago allegedly praising an attack on the widely hated Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. No legal action had been taken against him or the magazine in this regard before now. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act under which these accusations have been framed is usually used against common criminals, not in political cases, and never against a media person. Now, at his most recent bail hearing, he has been charged purely and simply with the content and opinions expressed in his magazine.
The blog columnist goes on the say that following the arrest, the police fed the local media stories about Kutty's personal life "which vilified the man as a demon." Since then the Malayam language press in Kerala has published little or nothing about his case, and even news in the Kerala and national English-language media is sparse. A media columnist writing in The Hindu (6 January), one of India's leading national publications, noted that there had been practically no mainstream press coverage of the cases of Kutty and two other figures imprisoned on charges of Maoist associations in 2007, Binakayak Sen, a well-known doctor arrested after he treated an accused Maoist prisoner in jail with the permission of prison authorities in Chhattisgarh, and Prashant Rahi, a well-known journalist in Uttarakhand. Much of the news has been spread by newspaper blogs and others run by political activists, often shut down by the authorities, only to reappear on other sites.
Nevertheless, some local and national media and people of various political persuasions have begun to make Kutty's case more broadly known. Statements of support have come from the Kerala Human Rights Samithi, student organizations, journalists, writers, scientists and others, as well as the Revolutionary Democratic Front of India (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The treatment of the human rights activists who saw Kutty has also stirred some further protests. The five, including several lawyers and a publisher, came from Delhi and Tamil Nadu as well as other cities in Kerala. They were initially blocked by the prison authorities, who wanted to force them to urge the editor to give up his protest fast. They succeeded in entering the prison the following day, but as they were leaving, the police tried to take them to a police station to "verify their identities" because they were suspected of being "extremists". The five protested that they had already presented their identification documents to the jail authorities. "Somehow, they managed to escape," wrote the newspaper Newindpress. They made a public appearance later that day at a conference at the Press Club in Thrissur, where they demanded that the state of Kerala drop the "false case" against Kutty and compensate him for his illegal detention.