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CJI Lalit, granting bail to Siddique Kappan :”Every person has the right to free expression.”

The Chief Justice of India UU Lalit asked a pertinent question about journalist Siddique Kappan, currently incarcerated in Lucknow jail on terror charges, one that should apply to all cases of journalists wrongly arrested for pursuing their professional work :

Siddique Kappan and his wife, Raihanath, in happier times

Kappan, who was picked up by Uttar Pradesh police on October 5, 2020, while travelling to Hathras to cover the heinous gangrape and murder of a young Dalit woman, has valiantly tried to prove his innocence for over two years. A journalist with slender means, he hitched a ride with three persons who belonged to organisations linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI). Police also jailed the hapless driver of the cab they hired, Mohammad Alam, whose only crime was that he logged out of his Ola system and took up the ride as he wanted to make an extra buck. Alam secured bail only on Aug 23, 2022.

Kappan, Alam and the other members of the cab ride, Campus Front of India Atiq-ur Rehman and Masood Ahmed, were charged with attempting to foment trouble under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the operative word being “attempting” here.

In police custody, he was harassed and asked why he, a Muslim, was interested in the case of a Dalit girl? UP police mounted a conspiracy case, arrested eight persons in total and said, in a 5000-page chargesheet, that they were all members of the Popular Front of India (PFI) and were out to foment trouble and disharmony. Th ey were charged under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity), 295A (outraging sentiments) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC. Later, Sections 14, 17 and 18 of UAPA and Sections 65, 72 and 76 of the IT Act were added to the case.

Kappan will still await release as he faces charges under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) , accused of getting money from the PFI. The case has been stuck in court in Lucknow, date after date being given (now posted for Sept 19 for bail and discharge for Sept 20). The Enforcement Directorate is yet to even file its reply in the case.

Clearly from the Supreme Court hearings on the bail application today, there was scarcely any evidence to book any of them.

And then the clincher:

We’ve already seen how a mere “toolkit” was seen as a weapon of mass destruction in the Disha Ravi case.

Undoubtedly, Kappan suffered a lot in jail. he did not get timely medical help, was chained to his cot in hospital and had to plead with the Supreme Court to visit his ailing mother (he got interim bail of five daysin February 2021. she died a couple of months later, in June 2021).

But what was truly damaging in the case against Siddique Kappan was the chilling effect it had on the media coverage of the Hathras gangrape and murder.

There was a nation-wide outrage over the actions of the UP government, caught on the back foot with its management of the terrible incident and the hurried attempt to stealthily cremate the body of the woman in the dead of night, not even allowing her family near the site. The UP police would have got away with their terrible act, but for an alert journalist’s courage and persistence.
Kappan’s arrest resulted in an immediate clampdown on all follow-ups on the gangrape and murder case. The jailing of the messenger has all but achieved its objective.

See SC order granting bail to Siddique Kappan here:

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