It’s been four days since Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan was taken away by the UP police while he was on his way to Hathras for reporting the alleged gang-rape and murder of a Dalit girl. Kappan, along with three friends, was arrested at a toll plaza in Mathura, a few kilometres from Hathras, and reportedly put in a jail in Mathura.
He has been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and no one, not even his lawyer, has been allowed to meet him. Kappan is also the secretary of the Delhi unit of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) and has been in journalism for 10 years. He used to report for Malayalam dailies like Thejus and Thalsamayam and has been a regular contributor to Azhimukham, a Malayalam news portal.
“We understand that he was taken to a jail in Mathura. We have asked a local lawyer to look into his case, but even she was denied permission to meet him. Nobody has met Siddique since his arrest,” says Prasanth, a journalist with the Deshabhimani daily and a member of KUWJ in Delhi.
Siddique’s wife Rahiyanath last spoke to him on Sunday night. “We talked till midnight. I did not receive any call/message on Monday morning, but I thought he would be busy with work. I started to get worried when I got no response to my calls and messages even in the afternoon.”
On Monday late night, Rahiyanath noticed that her WhatsApp messages were being read, but she did not receive any reply. She came to know about his arrest and detention only on Tuesday when television channels started flashing the news.
It is now known that he was arrested around 11 am on Monday. The law says that the family should be intimated about an arrest at the earliest, but Rahiyanath was kept clueless for one-and-a-half days. She has not received any formal communication from the police till now.
KUWJ has filed a habeas corpus in the Supreme Court, which will be taken up for hearing on Monday. “His arrest and detention is a blatant violation of the settled legal positions with regard to arrest as stipulated in the DK Basu Vs State of Bengal case,” P K Manikandan, a Delhi member of KUWJ and the correspondent of Mathrubhumi daily, told The Federal.
“The arrest of the journalist under UAPA is a confluence of two established patterns in UP: intolerance to free speech and targeting minorities,” said Manoj Mitta, a senior journalist and author, referring to the arrest of Kappan.
“In one-and-a-half years, about 10 journalists have been arrested by the UP police,” said Neha Dixit, an independent journalist based in Delhi. Neha has made a Facebook post on the recent arrest and detention of journalists while they were discharging their duty.
In May, Ravindra Saxena was arrested for reporting about the mismanagement in a quarantine centre in Sitapur District. In March, two journalists, Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra, were booked allegedly for reporting about Dalits from the Musahar community in Varanasi eating grass due of hunger.
Omar Rashid, a correspondent with The Hindu, was picked up allegedly for reporting on the anti-CAA protests in Lucknow. Though no formal charges are filed against him, Omar was harassed and threatened by the police.
“What was most striking was that when the police illegally detained me, they disregarded my journalistic background and focused on my ethnic background to portray me as a conspirator in the violence,” Omar Rashid told The Federal. “I was treated like a suspect and even photographed like one despite me cooperating with the police. The questions asked to me and the conversation I had with the police after that revealed that they wanted to link me with the preconceived notions they harboured about my identity,” Omar said.
Pawan Jaisawal was booked for exposing the poor quality of mid-day meals distributed in a school in Mirzapur. He shot a video of roti with salt being distributed to kids. He was booked for ‘maligning the image of the government’.
In September 2019, Ashish Tomar, a journalist with Dainik Jagran, and Shakeel Ahmed, an independent journalist, were booked for reporting the discrimination being faced by Dalits in the Bijinor district of UP. A week after, a local journalist, Santosh Jaiswal, was arrested for shooting visuals of children mopping the floor in a school in Azamgarh.
Prasanth Kanojia, a Delhi-based freelance journalist, was picked up by the UP police on August 18, 2020, allegedly for tweeting the picture of a leader of the right-wing group Hindu Army. The police said the picture was morphed.
However, the FIR refers to the URL of a deleted tweet, which Prasanth’s wife claims was fabricated. “He has not morphed anything. He deleted the tweet immediately when he realised that it was morphed,” Jagisha Arora, his wife, told The Federal. She said a bail petition has been moved in the High Court and that it would be heard on October 19.