Almost 900 days after he was arrested while on his way to report on the alleged gangrape and death of a Dalit girl by upper caste men in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, Indian journalist Siddique Kappan has finally walked out of jail.
The victim of the Hathras gang-rape succumbed to her injuries two days later in hospital and was forcefully cremated in the middle of the night, in an incident that made international headlines.
Kappan, 42, was arrested on 5 October 2020 along with three others in Mathura. He was charged with the colonial-era sedition law and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) after Uttar Pradesh police accused him of criminal conspiracy and funding terror activities.
Police also alleged that Kappan had links with the now-banned Islamic organisation Popular Front of India (PFI).
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a case against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
After spending 850 days in prison, Mr Kappan walked out of Lucknow jail on Thursday.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) February 2, 2023
Speaking about life inside jail, a visibly relieved Mr Kappan told reporters that he “struggled.”
“I struggled more,” he was quoted as saying to news agency Press Trust of India as he met his wife Raihanath and teenage son Muzammil who were waiting for him.
Kappan said to The Independent that he is “thankful to the support he got from the media.”
Raihanath had been fighting for her husband’s release and had earlier told The Independent: “My husband has not committed any crime, I am sure about that.”
“They are using UAPA so that no journalist writes against the government again.”
Last year on 9 September, the Supreme Court had granted bail to him in the UAPA case.
On 23 December, the Allahabad high court granted him bail in the PMLA case and paved the way for his release.
Kappan however had to wait over a month to walk out of jail, despite being granted bail.
Speaking to The Independent, one of his lawyers, Mohammad Dhanish KS said that the delay was “unacceptable.”
“The delay in his release is unacceptable,” he says.
“It shouldn’t take more than a week in any court in any state in the country.”
He added that while the court ordered bail on 23 December, procedural delays held his release.
“The bail was granted in the ED case on the last working day before Christmas vacation. We presented the sureties on 6 January but it took more than 18 days for him to be released because the court received the verifications on 12 January and then we moved with the release order.”
Mr Dhanish added that while they are happy that he is out of jail, the fight to prove his innocence will continue.
“Now that he is out on bail we have to keep fighting as in the ED case the trial is underway in a special court in Lucknow.
“In the UAPA case we have filed a discharge application in which we moved to dispose off the charges against him.”
Kappan’s release has been celebrated by India’s opposition parties and civil society members.
A Muslim journalist comes out of jail on bail after two years in UP, India. He was arrested on terror charges because he was going to report on Dalit girl’s rape and murder. #SiddiqueKappan pic.twitter.com/BKb3j25Lrw
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) February 2, 2023
The release of SiddiqueKappan after 28 months in jail reminds us that UAPA allows Govt to detain people indefinitely without charge. It took the SupremeCourt to finally reaffirm"bail not jail". The amended UAPA is a menace to democracy, as I warned when opposing its introdn in LS
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) February 3, 2023
Every single charge against Siddique Kappan was trumped up- from sedition to causing unrest to money laundering. He is free after spending 28 months in jail without a single piece of evidence. What penalty will the authorities pay for this crime against him?
— Ajay Kamath (@ajay43) February 3, 2023
FINALLY! Journalist Siddique Kappan walks out after spending 2+ years in jail. pic.twitter.com/L7ACATg3qo
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) February 2, 2023
#India: CPJ welcomes journalist #SiddiqueKappan's release on bail and reiterates that all charges against him must be dropped.
Authorities must also immediately release the other five journalists who are currently imprisoned.#PressFreedom #JournalismIsNotACrime pic.twitter.com/MSxqgS1RYs
— CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) February 2, 2023
Kappan’s case was one among a long list of crackdowns on India’s activists, intellectuals and journalists that has contributed to its rank at 150 among 180 countries by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The World Press Freedom Index 2022 rank is India’s lowest ever.