After more than 22 months in prison for merely travelling to the village of Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to cover a gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman, Kerala Journalist Siddique Kappan was told by Justice Krishna Pahal of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court that he had “no work at Hathras.”
“Till yesterday, I firmly believed I would get justice. My husband was arrested on Oct 5, 2020. He is a hard-working journalist and a good man, a good father and husband. I have said, time and again, that he wanted to go to Hathras to cover the gangrape story. It was just coincidence that he travelled with the others. ”
Since his arrest, with the sole earning member in prison and with young children to care for, the family has been facing straitened circumstances. Kappan’s eight year old daughter had not seen her father for one-and a-half years, till he was produced in court in one of the cases lodged against him. Of the other two children, the older son is 18 and enrolled in a degree course while the younger son in the eighth grade.
Kappan has not been able to write to his children or receive letters from them. “He is told he can read books but not allowed a pen or even a pencil,” his wife said. He has been telling his children to read and concentrate on their education.
Kappan has managed to get his hands on some books in the jail library and had read Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom’. He told me he also wanted to read books on the media, his wife said. There a time when he had become very depressed and wondered if he would even be freed, but the bail application in the High Court had given him some hope. Now we have to start all over again, Raihanath said.
Download the order here:
UP police first detained Kappan, a journalist working for a news portal, “Azhimukham”, at a toll plaza near Mathura along with three others travelling in the vehicle and the vehicle’s driver. The police had initially arrested them under Section 151 of the CrPC, which allows an arrest to prevent commission of a cognisable offence. Apart from Kappan, the others arrested were the former treasurer of the Campus Front of India (CFI) Atiq-ur Rehman, the Delhi state general secretary for CFI and member of the Jamia Coordination Committee, Masood Ahmed and the cab driver, Mohammed Alam.
They were charged later under various sections of the Unlwful Activities Prevention Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act.
On Feb 13, 2021, Uttar Pradesh police arrested CFI general secretary Rauf Shareef from Kochi, on charges of money laundering and on February 15, 2021, the UP police Special Task Force (STF) arrested Badruddin and Firoz Khan , two members of the Popular Front of India, for allegedly planning multiple blasts in UP. An eighth person accused, Danish, was already in Delhi police custody for his alleged role in the violence in north-east Delhi in January 2020.
(See timeline below)
His “sojourn” as the judge termed it, came at a time when the state machinery was on tenterhooks owing to the tension prevailing due to various types of information being viral across all forums of media including the internet.”
In his order dismissing Kappan’s bail application, the judge said that the “sojourn of the applicant with co-accused persons who do not belong to media fraternity is a crucial circumstance going against him.” He also said that Kappan’s defence that he was a journalist and had travelled to Hathras only for professional work, was nullified by the charge-sheet which alleged that ‘tainted’ money could have been used by Kappan and the others travelling in the car. Justice Pahal said this could not be ruled out.
Meanwhile the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), of which Kappan was an office bearer before his arrest, has issued a statement expressing disappointment at the order. The statement said :
We are deeply disappointed that the Hon Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has dismissed the bail application moved by Mr Siddique Kappan, journalist and former secretary of Kerala Union of Working Journalists Delhi unit. Mr. Kappan is one among our fraternity and is in jail since October 5, 2020. He was arrested while in his way to cover the issue of the rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras.
We are making all efforts to challenge the order before the honourable Supreme Court of India. We are hopeful that the Hon Supreme Court will interfere and uphold the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to every citizen and more particularly to a journalist under part 3 of the Constitution.
We are of the view that reporting an incident can`t be termed as a banned activity under the UAPA Act. We collectively feel that democracy is essential for any nation to survive. Journalism and journalists are an integral part of democracy and they need to exercise and enjoy freedom of speech and expression to function within a democracy. Democracy will be in trouble if journalists are not given freedom of life and liberty while doing their job.
Timeline on Arrest of Siddique Kappan
On 14 September 2020 a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, was brutally assaulted and gang-raped by four upper caste men. Her spinal cord was severely damaged, her duppata was used to strangle her and her tongue had been cut off. She was taken to a hospital in Aligarh on Sept 14, 2020. She managed to record three statements before the police about the assault. She was moved to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi after her condition worsened. She died there on Sept 29, 2020. Police hurriedly cremated her body near her village without handing it over to her family.
The assault and police action sparked widespread protests and intense media coverage, as several journalists from print and electronic media across India travelled to Hathras village to cover the incident. The Hathras administration imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in the district and sealed the state’s borders till October 31, 2020.
October 5, 2020: Siddique Kappan, a journalist working for a news portal, “Azhimukham”, was on his way to Hathras to cover the gang-rape and killing. He was arrested at a toll plaza near Mathura along with three others travelling in the vehicle and the vehicle’s driver. The police had initially arrested them under Section 151 of the CrPC, which allows an arrest to prevent commission of a cognisable offence.
(The four arrested were journalist Siddique Kappan, former treasurer of the Campus Front of India (CFI) Atiq-ur Rehman, the Delhi state general secretary for CFI and member of the Jamia Coordination Committee, Masood Ahmed and the cab driver, Mohammed Alam. On Feb 13, 2021, Uttar Pradesh police arrested CFI general secretary Rauf Shareef from Kochi, on charges of money laundering and on February 15, 2021, the UP police Special Task Force (STF) arrested Badruddin and Firoz Khan , two members of the Popular Front of India, for allegedly planning multiple blasts in UP. An eighth person accused, Danish, was already in Delhi police custody for his alleged role in the violence in north-east Delhi in January 2020).
Oct 6, 2020: The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ)filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court. Kappan is the elected secretary of the Delhi unit of KUWJ. The KUWJ office-bearers as well as Kappan’s family were unable to contact him or get any information on his whereabouts for over 24 hours since his arrest.
Oct 6, 2020: Kappan was produced before a magistrate and sent to 14-days judicial custody.
Oct 7, 2020: An FIR was registered at the Maant police station in Mathura district, charging Kappan with Section 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Information Technology Act.
April 5, 2021: Uttar Pradesh Police filed a 5,000-page charge sheet against Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan and other accused.
April 20: Kappan suffered injuries when he fell down in the jail bathroom. He was tested Covid positive. He was shifted to K M Medical College, Mathura.
April 26, 2021: Raihanath, wife of Siddique Kappan, wrote to Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana seeking his immediate release from a hospital, alleging he is “chained like an animal in a cot of the hospital, without mobility, and he neither could take food, nor could go to toilet for the last more than 4 days, and is very critical.”
June 16, 2021: Sub Divisional Magistrate, Maant, Ram Datt Ram, discharged Siddique Kappan and three others on charges under Section 151 of the CrPC, related to apprehension of breach of peace as the police failed to complete the inquiry against them within the prescribed period of six months. As the limitation for completing proceedings under the law has expired, the proceedings against the four accused are dropped, the order of the magistrate said.
July 6, 2021: The Sessions Court at Mathura rejected Kappan’s bail application.
Dec 14, 2021: The court of additional and sessions judge Anil Kumar Pandey ordered the transfer of the case after an application by the STF that the UP government has constituted a special court in the state headquarters u/s 22 of the NIA Act, as per an order on April 20, 2021.
Feb 19, 2022: The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court admitted an application filed by journalist Siddique Kappan, through his wife, Raihanath Kappan, seeking to quash the “patently illegal prosecution sanctions” to proceed against Kappan under The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act , 1967. The application, filed under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), states that the orders for sanction of prosecution dated 31.03.2021 and 06.04.2021 were patently illegal. Moreover, “it is evident on a bare perusal of the sanction order dated 31.03.2021 that the prosecution sanction has been granted without due application of mind and in a mechanical and mala fide manner,” the application said.
Feb 21, 2022: Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court admitted an application for bail filed by journalist Siddique Kappan. The application stated that police have “falsely implicated Kappan for the above mentioned offences, despite there being no recovery, and there was not even any scope for reasonable suspicion.” Kappan, it said, is a respectable citizen of society without any criminal antecedents and was, above all, a journalist by profession having an identity card which was with him at the time of arrest . The application said that “..it was not the arrest Mr. Siddique Kappan, but the arrest of Journalist Siddique Kappan, as it was an act of stopping a journalist from discharging his duty, seriously affecting the freedom of the press.