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“How many times did you go to Pakistan?”
“How many times did you meet Zakir Naik?”
“How many girlfriends do you have?”
“Do you eat beef?”
These are some of the questions journalist Siddique Kappan says he was asked by the Uttar Pradesh police in the last two and a half years. On 3 February, Kappan walked out of Lucknow jail after spending 28 months imprisoned, fighting the grave UAPA charge.
In an exclusive interview with The Quint, Kappan spoke about his arrest, experience in jail, threats to journalism and his personal life.
'Only Bucket To Relieve Ourselves At Quarantine Centre'
Kappan was arrested on 5 October 2020 while he and two others were on their way to UP’s Hathras. Kappan wanted to cover the gruesome gangrape of a 20-year-old Dalit woman, when their car was stopped by the UP Police.
Kappan said that the men, including the driver, were all taken to a police station for questioning. “They asked, “who is the journalist from Kerala?” I said it’s me. Then they began questioning me. “How many times have you been to Pakistan?” “How many times have you met Zakir Naik?” “Do you eat beef?”...I thought they would let me go after asking all this. But then officers from other agencies also showed up. They questioned us till early next morning,” said Kappan.
In the affidavit filed by the UP government, it said that Kappan and others “...were going to Hathras under the garb of Journalism with a very determined design to create a caste divide and disturb law and order situation were found carrying incriminating material.”
Kappan said that the police found and took away his laptop, notepad and phone. “Maybe they are calling that incriminating. I used to file my reports on that laptop.”
Kappan was subsequently taken to a school-turned-quarantine-centre-turned-temporary jail, where he spent the next 21 days. “There were no facilities there. There was no washroom. There was one bucket in a corner for us to relieve ourselves. There were at least 50 prisoners in that one room. If you want to go to the toilet, you have to convince the police. Then you might be allowed to go just once,” he said.
'Only Hindi or English, No Malayalam,'
Kappan said that it wasn’t until 45 days after his arrest that he got to speak to his family.
But he was given strict instructions to only speak in Hindi or English, not Malayalam, he said.
“I requested them to let me speak for just 2 minutes in Malayalam. My mother was unwell at the time. I told them my mother doesn’t know Hindi or English. I finally got allowed to speak in Malayalam for two minutes,” he said.
Kappan’s mother passed away in June 2021, while he was in prison. “I wasn’t given permission to attend her funeral,” he said.
On 15 August 2022, Independence Day, Kappan’s 9-year-old daughter had given a speech in her school that had gone viral. She had spoken about her imprisoned father, and demanded his freedom.
“The children and wife both showed courage. They knew this is a political case, a fake case. UP Police wanted to divert from the Hathras case so they created this case. Everyone knows this, including my children. They read the newspaper. They are aware of the situation in India. They knew that this is how we have to survive in India,” Kappan said.
Not Part of PFI, Says Kappan
Kappan said that since starting journalism full time in 2011, he has covered all sorts of serious issues ranging from the Supreme Court, Parliament, Dalit and Minority issues, as well as UAPA, ASFSPA.
“After the Delhi riots (2020), two Kerala channels were banned by the home ministry for 48 hours. The government alleged that they had indulged in misreporting. I sat against this ban in Jantar Mantar. I was the secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists at the time, so I led that protest. I wasn’t the only one there. Many journalists, including local Delhi journalists as well as politicians were present there. But I led the protests. Since then, I have been on the hit list,” he said.
In the UP police’s chargesheet, Kappan has been connected to the now-banned organisation Popular Front of India (PFI). But Kappan denied being a part of the organisation.
“As a journalist, I have many people’s number on my phone. BJP, CPM, PFI, Janta Dal...There are so many organisations in India. I have all their numbers on my phone. I would go and report on all organisations’ events, as a journalist,” he said.
Kappan said he wants to continue in the field of journalism, now that he is out on bail. “There is still a lot of hope for democracy in the country. It is the biggest democracy in the world. But there is a room for fascism in democracy. That is what they have exploited. Journalism is a very risky job. Real journalists find it challenging. Easy work is to spread lies of the government,” he said.