Siddique Kappan, who spent 28 months in prison without trial, was charged under anti-terrorism laws for reporting on the gang-rape case.
Indian journalist Siddique Kappan, who spent two and a half years in jail without trial, has been released from prison more than a month after a court in the northern Indian city of Prayagraj granted him bail in a money laundering case.
He was initially charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. Later charges were brought against terrorism and money laundering. In September, the Supreme Court granted him bail in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case.
“I am happy to be out of prison after almost 2.5 years,” Kappan, 43, told Al Jazeera. “I hope to defend my role and prove my innocence.”
Journalist rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed Kappan’s release and demanded that all charges against him be dropped.
I was just going to report. What’s wrong with that? I only carried two pens and a writing pad
Kappan was arrested in October 2020 in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where he had traveled to report on a high-profile gang-rape case. He and three others, including his driver, were accused of belonging to a Muslim organization and eventually charged with conspiracy to incite violence.
His driver Mohammad Alam was granted bail last month, while the other two remained behind bars.
Kappan maintains his innocence and says he only traveled from his home state of Kerala to carry out his duties as a journalist.
“I just went to report. What’s wrong with that? I was carrying only two pens and a writing pad,” he said of the case of a young Dalit girl who was gang-raped by upper caste Hindus in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras town.
The 43-year-old said that the last two years have been difficult for him and his family.
“My wife and three children struggled a lot. However, I have to thank people for the support that I and my family have received.”
Geeta Seshu, who advocates for press freedom in India, told Al Jazeera that Kappan’s arrest under strict “anti-terrorism” laws was “an extreme illustration of the fragility of journalists’ freedom to work in India”.
“While Kappan was caught even before he could write his story, other journalists are constantly targeted for their writings,” said Seshu, founder of the Mumbai-based Free Speech Collective.
Closed #journalists in #India from February 2, 2022:
1) Asif Sultan (as of August 27, 2018)
2) Gautam Navlakha (as of April 14, 2020)
3) Sajad Gul (from January 5, 2022)
4) Fahad Shah (as of February 4, 2022)
5) Rupesh Kumar Singh (from July 17, 2022) #PressFreedom
— CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) February 2, 2023
India has seen a sharp decline in media freedom since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government took office in 2014.
Critical journalists are often behind bars and persecuted on social media by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to the World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders in May last year, India fell to 150th place from 142nd among 180 countries.
“The end result of this intimidation and persecution, visible and invisible, is the erosion of journalists’ freedom to investigate and report on important issues, to comment and inform public opinion, and to question those in power,” Seshu added.