On Thursday, February 2, Indian journalist Siddique Kappan was released from jail in Lucknow, after having spent more than two years in prison without a trial. He was arrested while attempting to travel from Delhi to report on the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit [a member of the oppressed castes] teenager in the State of Uttar Pradesh in October 2020.
“I have come out of jail after 28 months. I want to thank the media for supporting me. False allegations were put against me. I am happy to be out now,” the 45-year-old journalist, who hails from Kerala’s Malappuram, told reporters after he was released.
Several rights bodies, including the Committee to Protect Journalists Asia have welcomed his release on bail and reiterated that all charges against him must be dropped immediately. Kappan has been asked to stay in the national capital Delhi and report for at least six weeks to the Nizammudin police station, as per bail conditions set by the Supreme Court.
Speaking to NewsClick after his release, Kappan said, “After walking out of jail following many struggles to acquire bail, I realized the value of freedom; I am like a free bird now. I will continue my profession after reaching Delhi and the resistance against injustice will also continue,” he said.
He said he had been subjected to regional and religious discrimination during his time in jail. “Being Muslim and South Indian, I faced discrimination from the jail authority. I was only allowed to read Hindi newspapers, not English, Urdu and Malayalam. For the first three months in jail, I was not allowed to read any Islamic books and Quran. However, I later got a copy of the Quran. I read many books, including Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’.”
Kappan was happy after reuniting with his wife and children after more than two years, but there was a palpable sense of grief on his face as he lost his pillar of strength – his mother. “I have lost my ailing mother during the struggle. I am happy to be with my children and wife but no one can fill the space of my mother,” the distraught journalist said.
He also accused the Mathura Jail authority of harassing him. “The jail authorities not only harassed me but I was also seen as an alien when I spoke in my mother tongue (Malayalam). During Covid-19, I was not allowed to go to the washroom. They provided me with a bottle to urinate,” Kappan alleged.
Siddique Kappan on people questioning his credibility as a journalist. He was released from Lucknow jail on Thursday following more than two years of incarceration. pic.twitter.com/gEyeFuY53k
— Piyush Rai (@Benarasiyaa) February 2, 2023
On October 8, 2020, police in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh arrested Kappan and three others. Over the following days, he was charged with sedition, promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, etc. and deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. He was charged under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Later, the Central government’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) charged Kappan under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The detention of the journalist was condemned by the Press Club of India, Frontline Defenders, Amnesty International, and several other rights and journalists’ bodies.
Kappan, who worked with the Malayalam media outlet Azhimukham in Delhi, was also the secretary of the Delhi unit of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists. In a 5,000-page chargesheet filed by the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force, the police claimed that the journalist “only reported about Muslims,” according to The News Minute.
The police also accused him of having links to the Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamist organization that was later banned in September 2022 by the central government for alleged terror links under the UAPA. Responding to the allegations, he told NewsClick, ““Being a journalist and holding the post of secretary of the Delhi unit of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), I have contact details of everyone, including RSS leaders, Muslim League, Congress and PFI. Being against the government’s policies does not mean that we are terrorists,” he claimed.”
On September 9, the Supreme Court granted him bail in the UAPA case, stating that “every citizen has the right to free expression” and observed that the journalist was eligible for bail based on the length of the custody undergone and the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case. The court asked Kappan to stay in Delhi for the next six weeks and comply with other bail conditions.
On December 23, the Allahabad High Court also gave him bail in the money laundering case. However, despite the bail orders, Kappan remained in jail for over a month due to bureaucratic delays. Mohammed Alam, the taxi driver arrested along with Kappan, walked out of jail on January 5 after 27 months in prison.
According to The News Minute, Kappan was asked to furnish two sureties of INR 1 lakh ($1220) and a personal bond of the same amount to receive bail in the UAPA case against him, and the same amounts again to receive bail in the PMLA case.
Ever since the far-right government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014, media freedom in India has taken a hit. According to Reporters Without Borders, India is at present positioned at 150 out of 180 surveyed countries in terms of press freedom, its lowest-ever ranking.
[With inputs from NewsClick’s Abdul Alim Jafri}