Siddique Kappan not as lucky as Zubair

While dismissing bail application, Allahabad HC noted that police investigation revealed that he had “no work” at Hathras; The court also cited the news report he had filed on an anti-CAA protest

Siddique Kappan not as lucky as Zubair

Ashlin Mathew

While AltNews co-founder Md Zubair was lucky to get relief from the Supreme Court, another journalist Siddique Kappan has not been so lucky. Despite spending 22 months in jail on almost equally frivolous charges, he is now hoping to get bail from the Supreme Court.

In October 2020 he was on his way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the outrage following gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras. It caused an international furore when police hurriedly cremated the body at midnight against the wishes of the family. Scores of journalists had already reported on the case from Hathras. But Kappan was arrested by UP Police at the Mathura Toll Plaza, along with the cab driver and three others, one of whom was an interpreter.

Police invoked section 151 of the CrPC which authorises police to take preventive action even before a crime is committed. How did the UP police know he was going to commit a crime?

Kappan and his companions were accused of travelling to Hathras to create communal disturbance. How a Malyalam journalist not proficient in Hindi and on a reporting assignment to Hathras for a few hours planned to do it is not quite clear

But the prosecution advanced three ‘incriminating evidence’ against him at the hearing for his bail last month. He had received Rs 45,000 in his bank account transferred by Rauf Shareef, secretary of the Popular Front of India (PFI) in Kerala; literature of SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India) was found in his house in Kerala and thirdly, he had participated in the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests. The fourth evidence against him presented to the court was that Kappan had earlier worked for ‘Thejas’, a publication of PFI which shut down in 2018 and has a portal now. Kappan was freelancing for a news portal, Azhimukham, at the time of his arrest.

The prosecution also produced chats that Kappan had with the Thejas editor P Koya as evidence of conspiracy. The defence argued that there was nothing incriminatory in the chat and Kappan knew Koya because he had worked for Thejas earlier. The sum of Rs 45,000 paid into his bank account was his salary, the defence argued. A journalist having literature at home, which he is required to study in course of his work, cannot be conflated as support for one or the other organization, the defence added.

On the basis of such evidence, UP Police has charged Kappan with sedition and invoked the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) for which approval of the Union Home Ministry is essential. Kappan’s bemused wife wonders how working for a registered newspaper was a crime.

Raihanath Kappan says that she and the defence lawyers are yet to receive a copy of the 5000-page charge sheet and documents filed by UP Police in April 2021.

Along with Kappan, those arrested were Atiq-ur Rehman, the Delhi state general secretary for Campus Front of India (CFI) and member of the Jamia Coordination Committee; Masood Ahmed; and the cab driver, Mohammed Alam. Kappan was also the former treasurer of CFI.

The initial FIR registered in Mathura charged 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 by insulting 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.

In December 2021, the case was transferred to Lucknow following an application by Special Task Force of UP Police that UP government had constituted a special court in Lucknow for hearing cases registered under the NIA Act. Kappan was also transferred from Mathura to Lucknow jail.

The continued incarceration of Siddique Kappan is a chilling manifestation of censorship in India -- where a journalist on duty, proceeding to a trouble spot to cover a crime, is locked up on terror charges and denied bail without any shred of evidence, exclaims Geeta Seshu, co-founder of Free Speech Collective, which tracks violations of the right to freedom of expression.

“When messengers are shot, attacked or locked up, the stories they seek to cover die with them,” adds Seshu.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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Published: 05 Aug 2022, 3:00 PM