Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan has been detained for nearly two years and accused of offences under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The Supreme Court on Friday granted the journalist bail, saying, “Everyone has a right to free expression.”
U.U. Lalit, Chief Justice of India, directed the State of Uttar Pradesh to bring Mr. Kappan for release on bail within three days under conditions that would ensure he was present at the trial.
In 2020, Siddique Kappan was arrested during his drive to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras for a gang rape and murder report. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which prohibits the funding of illegal activities, was applied to him for the alleged financing of terrorism.
Chief Justice of India, UU Lalit, noted that Kappan has been in custody for two years.
After his granting him release, Mr. Kappan was told to report weekly to the local police station in Delhi for six weeks. Then, after six weeks, he can move to his native town in Kerela, Malappuram. However, he’ll have to report to the local police station every Monday to mark his presence. The court’s order states that Kappan has to deposit his passport with the investigative machinery. In its ruling, the court said that the appellant should not misuse his liberty and should not communicate with anyone involved in the controversy.
The Siddique Kappan Case
Siddique Kappan was arrested during his journey to report about a Dalit girl’s gang rape in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras on 5 October 2020. A Thakur group from her village gang-raped the girl on 14 September 2020. A fortnight later, she died at a Delhi hospital after succumbing to her injuries. Without her family’s consent, she was cremated at night.
There were shockwaves throughout the country following the Hathras murder and rape case.
The Uttar Pradesh police arrested Kappan and three members of the Campus Front of India (CFI), Atiq-ur-Rahman, Masood Ahmed, and Alam.
It was reported by The Wire that Kappan and CFI members were involved in a conspiracy to incite riots based on caste lines and smear Yogi Adityanath over the Hathras gang-rape and murder case.
Kappan and the three others were charged with promoting enmity between groups based on religion, violating Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Section 295A of the Information Technology Act, and outraging religious feelings through deliberate and malicious acts.
On 5 September, the UP dispensation accused Kappan of having close links with the Popular Front of India (PFI) in response to his bail plea. Moreover, Scroll reported that the UP government accused him of inciting religious conflicts in the country. Kappan’s bail request was dismissed by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in August.
Violation of the Indian Constitution
In light of the lack of evidence of terrorism, which allowed his detention for so long without bail, the police had stepped up their attack on Kappan for incitement, but the argument they presented against him falls into the realms of absurdity.
The charge sheet stated that the Muslim characters in Kappan’s writing are portrayed as being beaten up by police and headed to Pakistan as victims. They believed that Kappan had written the story to incite the Muslims. According to the charge sheet, Siddique Kappan’s writings can be considered communal to a large extent. The charge sheet stated that responsible journalists do not report on communal issues. They further accused Kappan’s report of being a hidden agenda of PFI.
It is in no way, shape, or form a crime to write about a subject. The Popular Front of India is not a banned group. It is not illegal to sympathize with someone or an organization – whether prohibited or not, and Communists are not prohibited. As stated in Article 19 (1) of the Constitution, freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed – with a few exceptions. If any one of the accusations against Kappan was proved to be an offence, any journalist – or Indian – could be arrested and charged with anything the police thinks is illegal, regardless of what the Constitution states.
The Downfall of Indian Media
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a non-profit organization based in Paris, published the June 2022 Press Freedom Index, which places India at 150 out of 180 countries. Generally, countries at the bottom of the list, such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Myanmar, etc., are notorious for their ruthless dictatorships, human rights violations, and total disregard for democratic principles. India’s narrowing distance from countries with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes is concerning.
In India, this sharp decline indicates a dangerous state of affairs for the media and democracy. Usually, the conditions of the press in India are due to democracy’s vulnerability and the attitude of the political leadership. According to RSF, India ranks among journalists’ five most dangerous countries. Despite the diverse media landscape in India, a free and independent media ecosystem never developed. The killings of journalists portray India’s violent treatment of journalists during their work.
The Indian government has tried to implement various laws and tactics to curb the freedom of independent journalists in India. Some journalists, such as Siddique Kappan, spent over a year in jail. In his case, the only crime he committed was aspiring to report from Hathras, where a Dalit girl was raped and killed.
What can the media do in response to the government smothering and browbeating journalists? Not much. At the moment, the situation is much different from when Rajiv Gandhi tried to ram the anti-defamation bill down the throat of the press during the controversy over the anti-defamation bill. There was a march down Rajpath that involved journalists and editors of all colours, which caused the government to withdraw the legislation.
Many people in India believe history and facts have been misinterpreted to keep Hindus from gaining power in 2022. Those who believe in fighting for the Constitution find themselves in a powerless position.