Lucknow: Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan, who walked out of jail on February 2 after two years and four months of incarceration, revealed that the police “tortured” him in an attempt to force him to admit having links to Maoist or terrorist groups.
The 43-year-old journalist was arrested in October 2020 while he was on his way to Hathras to report on the rape and murder of a Dalit woman by upper caste men. While the government has accused him of having links to the Popular Front of India (PFI), which was later banned, and money laundering, Kappan denies the charges.
After a reunion with his wife Raihanath and son Muzammil, he said, “On getting bail, I am feeling happy, but this is half-baked justice. After being released from jail, I realised the true meaning of freedom.” Kappan was speaking before flying to Delhi from Lucknow. He will stay in the national capital for the next six weeks as part of his bail condition.
Talking about the charges of sedition, money laundering and conspiracy levelled against him, Kappan said that the government put him in jail to hide its failure in the Hathras case. “To avoid embarrassment, the government made me a scapegoat and tried to give communal colour to the horrific incident of rape and murder,” he said.
According to Kappan, all of the charges against him are baseless. He has never been a member of the PFI or any other extremist organisation. Asked about the allegation that he is a “fake journalist”, he said he was the secretary of the Kerala Union for Working Journalists (KUWJ). Is the KUWJ a sham organisation, he wondered? He alleged that the police confiscated his press identity cards and have not returned them yet.
Ordeal in police custody
Kappan recounted his ordeal while he was in police custody and prison. He alleged that the police had beaten him mercilessly and asked absurd questions during interrogation. “They slapped me several times and beat me on my legs and feet. They tried to force me to admit having links with Maoists or Islamic terrorists,” he said. “Despite their torture, I said no to all their questions.”
“Not only did they torture me, but they also asked me absurd questions in custody. They questioned whether I ever visited Pakistan or whether I used to eat beef,” the journalist added.
Kappan also fell ill during incarceration. On April 12, 2021, he fell unconscious in jail. A diabetes patient, he tested positive for COVID-19. Later on, Kappan was admitted to Mathura medical college, where he was restrained in metal handcuffs. According to Kappan, the police did not allow him to use the washroom for seven days, and he used a plastic bottle to urinate.
On the order of the court, he was shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi on April 28, 2021. Due to his deteriorating health condition, he was shifted from Mathura Jail to Lucknow Jail in December 2021.
In Lucknow, too, Kappan did not get proper medical treatment. According to him, in the Lucknow Jail, he was treated by doctors who were incarcerated. They treated him and other patients halfheartedly, he says.
‘Journalism in danger’
After stepping out of prison, Kappan says “journalism is in danger in India.” He expressed concern for the other journalists who were being held in jails around the country. He claimed that the government is silencing journalists by charging them with terrorism. “They level serious charges against journalists because nobody dares to defend them,” Kappan added.
Talking about his plans, Kappna said he would continue to be a journalist. He went on to say that he has been in Delhi since 2013 and has covered beats such as parliament, Congress and minorities for a Kerala-based Malayalam news portal.
He also said that he would fight against “draconian laws” such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), under which he was detained. He cited his own struggle to get bail as one reason to fight against these laws.
The journalist was granted bail by the Supreme Court in the Hathras ‘conspiracy case’ in September 2022. But he had to remain in jail because of a money laundering case registered by the Enforcement Directorate. He eventually got bail on December 23 from the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, but his release was delayed because the court went on vacation and some formalities had to be completed.
The special court hearing the money-laundering case then asked Kappan to furnish two sureties of Rs 1 lakh each. After this was done on January 9, 2023, the court ordered verification of the identities of the persons who had stood surety. This was completed on February 1, 2023 and Kappan was released on bail the next day.