Journalists' Unions Condemn UP Police's Arrest of Malayalam Reporter Siddique Kappan

Kappan was arrested along with three others while on his way to Hathras.

New Delhi: The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) has demanded the “earliest release” of Siddique Kappan, a Delhi-based Malayalam-language journalist and secretary of the Union’s Delhi unit. Kappan was arrested along with three others in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh on Monday.

The three others arrested have been identified as Atiq-ur Rehman, Masood Ahmed and Alam. The UP police has claimed that the four men were stopped at a toll after they received information that some “suspicious people were on their way to Hathras from Delhi”. According to a statement by the police, a laptop, their mobile phones and some literature, which ‘could have an impact on peace, and law and order in the state’, have been seized from them.

However, the KUWJ in its letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister of UP Yogi Adityanath has said that Kappan is a senior journalist working for several Malayalam media houses, including azhimukham.com, and had gone to Hathras on Monday morning to cover the present situation in the area.

“We understand that he was taken into police custody by Uttar Pradesh police from Hathras toll plaza. Our efforts and the efforts by some advocates based in Delhi to contact him were not successful,” read the letter sent on Tuesday. Demanding Kappan’s “earliest release”, the journalists union maintained that “Kappan was trying to do his duty as a reporter”.

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Confirming Kappan’s association with azhimukham.com as a regular contributor, editor of the Malayalam news portal K.N. Ashok told The Wire that the journalist has been writing for the publication on a regular basis since January 2020. “He is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than a decade. Hence, it is obvious that he would cover the story of national importance like this,” said Ashok adding “he had informed us through a message that he is going to Hathras.”

Ashok further said, “On Monday evening when we tried contacting Kappan to enquire whether he has sent any story or planning to send one, he could not be reached. Only later we got to know that he had been arrested.” When asked about Kappan’s alleged association with PFI, Ashok said, “As far as we know that he is not associated with it. And even if he is, it is not a crime as PFI is not a banned organisation.” Azhimukham’s editor also maintained that “we do not approve the ideology of the PFI”.

In the past, the Uttar Pradesh police has demanded a ban on the PFI. According to the police, the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in the state were engineered by the organisation. However, as per N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, the claims “runs into several serious logical inconsistencies and difficulties, raising doubts on its veracity”.

The KUWJ has also filled a petition in the Supreme Court of India, asking it to “Issue a writ in the nature of Habeas corpus or any other appropriate writ, or orders directing the respondent…produce Mr. Sidhique Kappan before this Hon’ble court, and release him from illegal detention.”  The Union, in its petition, has alleged that Kappan’s arrest was in violation of the D.K. Basu guidelines of the Supreme Court regarding arrest and it was done “to obstruct the discharge of (his) duty in the capacity as journalist”.

Meanwhile, the PFI has said that “the UP Police is trying to divert the attention of the issue by creating a conspiracy theory”. According to a statement released by the organisation, “Such acts only show their nervousness due to the growing anger among the people of UP and rest of the country. The Popular Front will not be intimidated by such tactics of suppression by the UP govt.”

Confirming the association of two the arrested persons – Atiq-ur Rehman and Masood Ahmed – an office bearer of the PFI told The Wire that both of them are members of Campus Front of India (CFI), the student wing of the PFI. When asked about the fourth person, Alam, the PFI office bearer said, “We have no information about him.”

Demanding the immediate release of the CFI members and journalist Kappan, a statement by PFI read, “The illegal arrest shows that in UP under the Yogi government even intending to meet family of victims is now considered as a crime. To hide the failed law and order situation in UP the BJP government has also tried to link Popular Front of India (PFI) to the protests that are happening across the country.”

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The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has also demanded Kappan’s immediate release. “The Delhi Union of Journalists is alarmed at the arrest of Siddique Kappan, secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists Delhi Unit, at Mathura yesterday while on his way to Hathras to cover the fallout of the gangrape. He is a professional journalist who works for several Malayalam media houses including azhimukham.com and was on an official assignment when he was arrested.  We urge his immediate release,” read a statement released by them on Tuesday.

The DUJ statement also noted that “We regret that journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested from Delhi by U.P. police on August 18, 2020 for a tweet, is still in jail.  We deplore the tendency to arrest journalists on dubious grounds.” Kanojia, a former staffer of The Wire Hindi, was arrested by the UP Police in August from Delhi over a tweet.

Moreover, the Press Club of India (PCI) has demanded that Kappan be released without delay. “It is our apprehension that the Yogi Adityanath government, in line with its clearly stated conspiracy theory as an explanation for the tragic Hathras incident, will employ diversionary tactics to take the focus away from the many suspicious, possibly criminal, actions of its police and administration and the virtual silence of the political leadership on the Hathras tragedy,” read the statement by the PCI.

“The arrest of the Kerala journalist is a pointer that the regime in UP is a further illustration of the ham-handed methods used to stop the media from doing its work. Inhibiting the media is evidently directed toward stopping facts from being known in the public sphere,” it added.