Indian journalist Sidhique Kappan is being held in pretrial detention on a variety of 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 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.
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.
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.
On October 12, 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 get his signature on official documents needed to approach that court on his behalf, but were refused access by the prison authorities, according to Manikandan.
Police had not filed any formal charges in Kappan’s case as of mid-November 2020, according to Manikandan. If charged and convicted of sedition, Kappan could face life imprisonment; if convicted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, he could face five years to life imprisonment.
In early November, 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 video-conferencing to speak to his family.
The petition also raised concerns about Kappan’s health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the new temporary jail of Mathura, where Kappan is detained, does not have enough safety measures against the virus. Kappan’s wife Raihanath told CPJ via phone that she was deeply concerned about her husband’s health and potential exposure to COVID-19.
On November 5, the Mathura chief judicial magistrate ordered Kappan and the three activists to be transferred to police custody for 48 hours for questioning, according to the Times of India. The Special Task Force of Uttar Pradesh police, which investigates terror-related cases, held the four until November 7, when they were transferred back to Mathura, Manikandan said.
On November 16, 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 November 20, the Uttar Pradesh government claimed in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court that Kappan was a member of the Popular Front of India, and alleged that the police found “incriminating material” in Kappan’s possession including protest leaflets, but did not provide any evidence to prove wrongdoing, according to The Wire. The Supreme Court held a hearing in Kappan’s case on December 1, according to Manikandan and news reports.
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.