Indian journalist Siddique Kappan is being held in pretrial detention on anti-state, incitement, and terrorism allegations. Police in the state of Uttar Pradesh arrested Kappan on October 5, 2020, and held him incommunicado for 48 hours before formally opening an investigation.
Kappan is a freelance reporter who has covered politics, crime, and current affairs for Malayalam-language news outlets including Azhimukham, Thejus Daily, and Thalsamayam Midday Daily, according to Azhimukham editor K. N. Ashok, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. Kappan is also the secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, a local trade group in Delhi, Ashok said.
On October 5, at a toll plaza at the entrance to the city of Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh, police arrested Kappan and three political activists with whom he was traveling, according to The Hindu and NDTV. Kappan was on his way from New Delhi to Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh to cover a gang-rape case that had sparked nationwide protests, Ashok told CPJ.
The next day, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists filed a habeas corpus petition to the Supreme Court after Kappan’s family and colleagues were not informed of his whereabouts, according to P. K. Manikandan, a senior member of the union, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
On October 7, Uttar Pradesh police revealed that Kappan and the three activists were being held in Mathura pending an investigation into alleged violations of the Indian penal code including Sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 295A (outraging religious feelings), and 124A (sedition), according to a copy of the police complaint, which CPJ reviewed, and local news reports.
Police also accused the four of violating Sections 17 (raising funds for the purpose of committing a terrorist act) and 14 (knowingly holding property derived or obtained from the commission of a terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and Sections of 65 (destroying digital evidence) and 72 (breach of confidentiality and privacy) of the Information Technology Act, according to that complaint and those reports.
The police accused the four of being members of the Popular Front of India, an Islamic fundamentalist group, and possessing “suspicious literature,” according to The Hindu. Ashok told CPJ that Kappan has denied any association with that group.
Also on October 7, police revealed that a local court in Mathura had, the previous day, ordered Kappan and the three others be held for 14 days in judicial custody, according to The Wire.
On October 12, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a bail application by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, and told them to submit it to a court in the state of Uttar Pradesh instead, according to The Hindu. The union’s lawyers twice attempted to meet Kappan in detention and obtain his signature on official documents needed to approach that court on his behalf, but were refused access by the prison authorities, according to Manikandan.
In early November 2020 the Kerala Union of Working Journalists filed a new petition with the Supreme Court requesting its intervention, which CPJ reviewed. The petition alleges that Kappan was denied access to a lawyer on October 6 when he was first presented before a court, and was refused the use of videoconferencing to speak to his family.
On November 5, the Mathura chief judicial magistrate ordered Kappan and the three activists to be transferred to the Uttar Pradesh police Special Task Force’s custody for 48 hours for questioning, according to the Times of India. That group, which investigates terror-related cases, held the four until November 7, when they were transferred back to Mathura, Manikandan said.
On November 16, 2020, the Supreme Court accepted Kappan’s case, according to news reports. The following day, Kappan was allowed to speak to his lawyer in a five-minute phone call, according to reports.
On April 4, 2021, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed a chargesheet accusing Kappan and three other co-accused of sedition and conspiring to incite caste violence, according to the Indian Express. In the chargesheet, the police Special Task Force accused Kappan of being an irresponsible journalist who “only reports to incite Muslims” and to sympathize with Maoists and Communists.
The 5,000-page chargesheet includes text from 36 articles that Kappan wrote for a Malayalam-language news outlet on religious and sectarian issues, according to The Indian Express.
On April 15, the Supreme Court granted Kappan bail for five days to visit his ailing mother, according to legal news website Live Law.
On April 20, while back in detention, Kappan fell in the bathroom and tested positive for COVID-19 the next day, his lawyer Wills Mathew told the Supreme Court, according to The Hindu. On April 28, the Supreme Court instructed the Uttar Pradesh government to shift Kappan to a hospital in Delhi for better treatment, according to that report.
Kappan was transferred to a Delhi hospital on April 30, and was returned to prison on May 7, according to Times of India and Newslaundry, which said his family and lawyer were not informed of his return to prison.
Kappan’s wife, Raihanath Kappan, told CPJ via phone in September 2021 Kappan has suffered from severe depression and anxiety after his mother died in June, as well as poor eyesight, which could be due to diabetes. Raihanath Kappan added that the medical facilities in the prison were inadequate.
As of September 2021, Kappan is awaiting the Allahabad High Court’s decision on a bail petition by his co-accused before deciding on further legal recourse, Kappan’s lawyer Wills Mathew told CPJ in a phone interview. Mathew said he had not received a copy of the full chargesheet against his client.
Awanish Kumar Awasthi, additional chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government, who is directly responsible for the state’s police, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app. Hitesh Awasthi, director-general of police in Uttar Pradesh, did not respond to CPJ’s text messages requesting comment.