By Najiya O, TwoCircles.net
It’s been a month since Kerala journalist Siddiq Kappan was arrested by the UP police, while on his way to Hathras for reporting on the alleged gangrape of a girl. Sadly, the arrest of only a few journalists and media persons is highlighted by the elite media while cases like Kappan’s don’t find a mention. The silence of the vast majority of the journalist fraternity as well as the general public is alarming.
It is indeed hopeful that the Delhi unit of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) began to act fast and approached the judiciary, but is that enough?
In addition to the arrest of a journalist on duty, the case is also important as the advocate representing Kappan has not yet been allowed to meet his client by the prison authorities by the Mathura CJM court.
Adv Wills Mathews, representing the KUWJ, tried to meet Kappan on October 16 for gathering information for the amendment of the petition filed in the Supreme Court earlier. He had to shuttle between the Mathura New temporary jail where Kappan was kept and the Mathura CJM court more than once, as each directed him towards the other, refusing to give him permission to meet the accused. Earlier also, he tried to meet the accused on October 6 when Kappan was produced before the Mathura CJM court but was refused permission and directed by the court to meet the detenue in jail. In this way, Kappan was prevented from signing a vakalatnama for authorizing his counsel to represent him in the court.
The UP police who arrested Kappan has not yet reportedly informed the family of Kappan of the arrest or its details. Nor was the family or Kappan allowed to contact each other.
“In my career of 30 years, such a situation has never happened. Moreover, even such a thought was impossible,” Adv Wills Mathews told TwoCircles.net when asked about the refusal of both the court and police to allow him to meet his client Kappan. “This is against the foundation of rule of law. And that is why we directly approached the Supreme Court instead of the normal practice of approaching the lower courts first and then moving the SC,” he added.
Siddiq Kappan hails from Malappuram district in Kerala and has been working for various Malayalam media outlets for the past 10 years in Delhi.
He is presently the secretary of the Delhi unit of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists. He is the only earning member of his family consisting of his 90-year old mother, wife and three children of school-going age.
Siddiq Kappan was taken into custody by the UP police on October 5, while on his way to Hathras for reporting for the Malayalam news portal www.azhimukham.com. The three other people, with whom he was travelling in a car, were also taken into custody. However, the family of Kappan came to know of his detention the next day from a news channel only, his wife Raihanath told TwoCircles.net. “I was worried if something had happened to him as he is diabetic,” said Raihanath speaking of October 5 incident when Kappan did not call her or attend her calls to his mobile or land phones. Soon the KUWJ and the news portal contacted her and confirmed the news of the arrest.
The KUWJ filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the Supreme Court on October 6, before the UP police registered an FIR. The FIR was registered in the early morning of October 7. Initially, the FIR reportedly stated that Kappan was arrested for violating the prohibitory orders and disrupting the peaceful atmosphere of Hathras. Later, he was booked under UAPA and accused of creating communal tensions.
On October 18, he was also named in a rioting case which was registered on October 4, one day before he left for Hathras. He is now charged under various sections of the IPC, the UAPA, and the IT Act.
The petition of the KUWJ was considered by the SC on October 12, which adjourned it by four weeks due to the Puja holidays, and asked the petitioners to approach the Allahabad Court for bail.
Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who represented the KUWJ, brought forward the issue of the UP police filing the FIR 48 hours after the arrest, which was after the petition was filed in the SC. He voiced hopelessness in getting bail from any court in UP, for which the SC assured that they could approach the appellate court any time. The SC also asked to submit an amended petition including the FIR details.
On October 16, Adv Wills Mathews and some office bearers of the KUWJ tried to meet Kappan in jail to get the vakalatnama and get Kappan’s signature and details for the amended bail petition to be submitted in the court but were denied permission to meet him by both the jail authorities and the Mathura CJM court.
This prompted the petitioners to approach the SC again to get justice. Meanwhile, the Sub-divisional Magistrate in Mathura also ordered Kappan to provide surety bond and pay Rs 1 lakh for the offences under different sections of the Criminal Procedure Code charged on October 5.
Meanwhile, the Mathura sub-divisional magistrate, on November 4, sent Kappan and the three others arrested with him to police custody for two days.
An amended bail petition was submitted in the Supreme Court for Kappan on October 29, as per the direction of the SC. However, on November 2, the KUWJ again approached the appellate court requesting to speed up the proceedings on the petition. Since the initial petition was submitted before the FIR was registered by the police, the SC allowed the petitioner to amend the plea including the charges mentioned in the FIR.
In addition to the request for the immediate release of Siddiq Kappan, the amended petition also requests the Supreme Court to direct the jail authorities to permit three office bearers from the KUWJ and their lawyers to meet Kappan and let him sign the vakalatnama. It asks the sovereign court to let the family members of Kappan talk to him over video conferencing, mentioning the deteriorating health condition of his aged mother. It also asks the SC to direct the District Judge of Mathura or a High Court judge to immediately visit the New Mathura temporary jail, where he is kept, to enquire about the human rights violations there and to take immediate corrective steps.
Adv Wills Mathews had raised doubts regarding the presence of serious human rights violations in the jail, following his visit there on October 16, and has submitted an affidavit detailing the same along with the bail plea.
The KUWJ Delhi unit has been in the forefront to work for ensuring justice to Kappan, who was doing his professional duty as a journalist. The organization held protests in Delhi for his immediate release. Protests were held by journalists in all the district headquarters in Kerala, as well as in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ) and the Delhi Union of Journalists have complained to the National Human Rights Commission on the matter. The NAJ also wrote to President Ramnath Kovind to intervene for the immediate release of Kappan.
Siddiq Kappan’s wife Raihanath submitted a memorandum regarding the matter to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi when he visited Kerala last month.
Offering his support, Gandhi assured that he would ask Priyanka Gandhi to look into the matter in UP, but no updates have been known so far on this.
A few members of Parliament from Kerala have written to the top leaders of the country including the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Information & Broadcasting Minister, asking them to intervene for the immediate release of Kappan.
Leaders of the Muslim League and the Congress visited the family of Kappan in Kerala and assured their support for justice to the journalist.
The International Press Institute and the International Federation of Journalists mentioned the case of Kappan in their letter to PM Narendra Modi expressing their concern over the sedition charges against five journalists in India during the COVID-19 crisis.
Members of the ‘Journalists for Freedom’ visited the family of Kappan at his home and expressed their solidarity with the arrested journalist on October 18. The journalists’ collective released a statement which pointed towards state conspiracy in the arrest and detention of Kappan, and demanded justice for him. It also held a protest programme raising the slogan ‘Journalism is Not a Crime’ in Calicut on October 22 which was inaugurated by veteran journalist NP Chekkutty.
However, there has been criticism regarding the response of the mainstream journalist fraternity in Kerala. Political observers noted that the media persons of the state have not responded strongly against the sorry plight of a fellow journalist in another state. “The media should come out and put pressure on the authorities in this matter,” said Raihanath. “It is Kappan today and it could be anybody else tomorrow. If the media do not speak out and protest against this, it is going to affect everybody,” she added.
Meanwhile, criticism has also been directed against the Kerala Chief Minister who reportedly maintained that he could not intervene in the matter taking place in another state when the issue was brought to his notice. Three letters were submitted to the CM – by human rights activists in the state, by the solidarity committee for the release of Siddiq Kappan and by Kappan’s wife Raihanath, but none of them could meet the state leader. The general public in the state also has not risen up in protest against the injustice done to a fellow Keralite in the northern state.
“Whatever happened till now was against the rule of law, but now that we are in the Supreme Court which is the guardian of the Constitution, we are hopeful,” said Adv Wills Mathews to TwoCircles.net.
Maintaining that she has to stay strong in front of her kids, Kappan’s wife also shared her hope that her husband would be provided justice.
“I am hopeful that he will come out soon as he is innocent. I have not yet gone for any protests on my own. I think that won’t be needed and he will be released soon. But if not, I will do the needy for his release,” she added.