THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Kerala — On Saturday, Raihanath, Siddique Kappan’s 37-year-old wife, said that Kappan phoned her from a borrowed mobile phone and told her that he was “chained to a hospital cot like an animal.”
“The call lasted hardly five minutes. His voice was frail but he told me about the horrific situation in which he was in,” said Raihanath in an interview on Sunday. “He said that he was chained to a hospital cot like an animal. He told me that he had not been able to go to the toilet in four days because he was chained to a cot. He said that he was urinating in a bottle.”
“He told me that the jail was a far better place than the hospital where even his right to go to the toilet was denied,” she said. “The phone got disconnected after five minutes. There has been no information since then. I have no clue about his condition since then. I don’t know whether he was released from the chain or not.”
Kappan, a Delhi-based journalist who hails from Vengara, a small town in Kerala’s Malappuram district, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police on 5 October, 2020, when he was traveling to Hathras, where a young woman from the Dalit community had been gangraped.
The 41-year-old journalist has been lodged in the district jail in Mathura since October. After he tested positive for Covid-19 last week, Kappan was moved to the Krishna Mohan Medical College, around 20 kilometres from the jail.
He told me that he had not been able to go to the toilet in four days because he was chained to a cot. He said that he was urinating in a bottle.
The UP Police say that Kappan is a member of the Popular Front of India (PFI), a Kerala-based extremist Islamic outfit, and have accused him of traveling to UP to foment trouble. They have charged him with several crimes including promoting enmity between two groups and sedition under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and terrorism and raising funds for terror acts under the Unlawful Activities (Prohibition) Act (UAPA), India’s anti-terror law.
The UP Police have also arrested the two men that he was traveling with Atiq-ur-Rahman and Masood Ahmed, reportedly office bearers of PFI’s student wing Campus Front of India, and Md Alam, who was driving the car and is reportedly a PFI member. All three men have been charged under the UAPA.
The PFI is not a banned organisation. The UP government under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accuses it of “instigating violence” during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019. Adityanath has been pushing for the PFI to be banned.
In February, the Enforcement Directorate filed money laundering charges against Kappan, alleging that the PFI had funded the anti-CAA protests, the Delhi Riots, in which 53 people were killed, 40 of them Muslim, and the protests around the Dalit teenager who was gang raped in Hathras.
Kappan, a father to two boys, 18 and 12, and a 10-year-old daughter, was working for the Malayalam online news outlet Azhimukham when he was arrested in October 2020.
Kappan, his family and friends say, graduated with a computer science degree from PSMO (Pocker Sahib Memorial Orphanage) College in Tirurangadi in Malappuram district. He first taught computer applications at a school in Vengara for two years and then tried to start a computer software business in Dubai. When the computer software venture failed, he turned to journalism.
Kappan landed his first journalism job in 2011, working as the Delhi correspondent for Thejas, published by the PFI. That, his family and friends say, was his only link to the PFI and it ended after the Malayalam daily ceased to be published in October 2018 because of poor circulation. Kappan then worked with Thalsamayam, a newspaper edited by veteran journalist NP Rajendran. As his savings depleted during the coronavirus pandemic, while working with Thalsamayam, Kappan started contributing to outlet Azhimukham.
His lawyer Wills Mathews say he was traveling to Hathras to cover the gang rape and murder of the Dalit teenager for Azhimukham.
“It is unbelievable,” Mathews said of the UAPA case against his client, and the most recent situation in which they say he was tied to a cot.
Letter to the Chief Justice of India
After that five minute call between Kappan and his wife, Mathews said that he phoned the jail superintendent in Mathura, but when his call was unanswered, he dropped him a text, asking that his client be shifted from the hospital back to the jail.
Mathews then wrote a letter to the new Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, who took office on Saturday, pleading for Kappan to be moved to a Delhi hospital, and is waiting for a reply.
“… presently, Mr Kappan is chained like an animal in a cot of the Medical College Hospital, Mathura, without mobility, and he neither could take food, nor could he go to the toilet for the last more than four days, and is very critical. If immediate corrective steps are not taken, it will result in his untimely death,” Mathews wrote in the letter.
“Media is the breath of democracy and it is an attempt to give breath to a media person who is in jail for the last six months…” he wrote.
If immediate corrective steps are not taken, it will result in his untimely death…
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), a trade union of Malayalee journalists with units in all districts of Kerala as well as in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, filed a Habeas Corpus petition on 6 October, 2020, one day after Kappan was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh government.
Kappan was the Delhi unit secretary of KUWJ.
Mathews said that a Habeas Corpus petition by its very nature is disposed of quickly, but this one, which seeks Kappan’s release from illegal detention, has been listed for hearing more than seven times and has been pending for seven months.
“It is unbelievable,” Mathews repeated.
A day before he tested positive on 21 April, Kappan’s lawyer said that Kappan had fallen on his face in the toilet, due to weakness, sustaining injuries. Noting that over 50 inmates had tested positive for Covid-19 in Mathura district jail, the KUWJ moved the Supreme Court, asking that the journalist be moved from the KM Medical College to a hospital in Delhi.
Enter Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
On Sunday, 25 April, Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, asking him to ensure that Kappan is treated humanely, and shifted to a super speciality hospital.
Raihanath, Kappan’s wife, said that she had sought the Kerala CM’s intervention several times over the past seven months, and he finally wrote to the UP chief minister, but only after veteran journalist P Sainath wrote to Pinarayi Vijayan, describing how Kappan was being treated at the medical college in Mathura.
“I think his case is an example of the worsening human rights situation in the country,” said Raihanath. “After his arrest, we were clueless about his existence for 45 days. We were not aware whether he was dead or alive. It took several weeks for his lawyer to meet him.”
Confirming that the Kerala CM only wrote the letter after Sainath intervened, PK Manikandan, a former secretary of the Delhi unit of the KUWJ, and a senior journalist with Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, said that KUJW had been pleading with Pinarayi Vijayan to write to Yogi Adityanath since Kappan was arrested in October.
Despite several attempts by Kappan’s family, Manikandan says, that the Kerala CM has not met with them.
“He told them to drop the petition at his office as he was away. They dropped the petition there. But nothing happened after that,” he said. “The Chief Minister has always maintained that he had limitations in interfering in matters of another state.”
Sainath confirmed that he had intervened in the matter.
Eleven MPs from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) have also written to the CJI Ramana, asking he be moved from Mathura to a Delhi hospital.
UDF MP’s led by K Sudhakaran have shot off a joint letter to Chief Justice, N V Ramana seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention in the case of journalist Siddique Kappan who has been admitted at Mathura Medical College Hospital in Uttar Pradesh after he became Covid positive.
In February, the Supreme Court granted Kappan permission for a three-day visit to meet his 90-year-old ailing mother whose health condition was worsening.
“He looked exhausted. He was suffering weight loss. He said he could not digest the food,” said Raihanath. “He said he used to satiate his hunger by purchasing cucumber from the jail canteen. He is an acute diabetic but he has had no treatment for the past seven months.”
He said he used to satiate his hunger by purchasing cucumber from the jail canteen…