Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala held in custody for more than two years without trial after his arrest in Uttar Pradesh, was released today. He had been in jail for over a month after he got bail in the two cases filed against him while he was reporting on the alleged rape of a young woman whose death sparked nationwide protests in 2020.
"This is half-baked justice. Journalism is not a crime. I will continue my fight against draconian laws. They kept me in jail even after I got bail... 28 months after a long fight. I don't know who's benefiting from my being in jail. These two years were very tough, but I was never afraid," he told NDTV after his release from the Lucknow jail.
Mr Kappan was expected to walk out last evening, but he could not be released since the judge of a special court that hears money laundering cases was busy with a bar council election.
He was arrested in October 2020 while on his way to Uttar Pradesh's Hathras to report on the alleged gang rape and death of a 20-year-old Dalit woman, which triggered protests across the country. The police said he was going there to create unrest.
The woman had died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after she was allegedly gang-raped. She was cremated in the middle of the night in her village by the district administration, sparking accusations of a cover-up and widespread condemnation of the Yogi Adityanath government.
Mr Kappan was accused of sedition and charged under the tough anti-terror law UAPA. In February 2022, the Enforcement Directorate filed a money laundering case against him, accusing him of receiving money from the banned People's Front of India.
In September last year, the Supreme Court granted him bail after observing that no formal charges were filed against him and a document named "Toolkit" recovered by the state police only propagated a call for justice in the rape case.
He got bail in the money laundering case three months later. But his release was held up due to multiple bureaucratic lapses.
The opposition and civil society groups have condemned Mr Kappan's arrest as motivated by the Uttar Pradesh government's efforts to avoid negative coverage over the incident in Hathras and said it was a case of the BJP government trying to muzzle the media.
The police have claimed that the journalist and others arrested with him are members of the banned Popular Front of India and its student wing, the Campus Front of India. Mr Kappan has denied any involvement in terror acts or financing. He said he was on his way to Hathras for journalistic work.
India has slipped 10 places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking to 150 out of 180 surveyed countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government took charge in 2014. Nine other journalists are currently in prisons, according to the international organisation.