The Editors Guild of India on Monday said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports of inhuman treatment being meted out to journalist Siddique Kappan. The Malayalam journalist has been in prison since October for trying to report on the Hathras gangrape case.
The association raised concern a day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Adityanath, seeking expert medical care and humane treatment for Kappan. The journalist, who reportedly has diabetes and heart ailments, was admitted to KVM Hospital in Mathura after he contracted the Covid-19 infection.
“His [Kappan’s] wife has alleged that her husband has been tied to a bed and is neither able to take food nor access toilet, while undergoing treatment at a Mathura Hospital for Covid-19,” the Editor’s Guild said in a statement. “This is shocking and should stir the conscience of the nation that a journalist is being treated in this cruel manner and being denied basic rights.”
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The Editor’s Guild also expressed shock that the Supreme Court had not intervened in the case “to ensure a fair trial of the journalist”, adding that a habeas corpus plea against Kappan’s arrest was pending before the court for six months.
“All of this goes against the basic canons of a constitutional democracy where independent journalistic enterprises need to be protected rather than repressed,” the statement said.
The association also highlighted that it had written to Adityanath in November, highlighting the many instances of state persecution and violence against journalists. “Since then, the situation has only worsened,” it added. “Recently, the chief minister threatened to seize the property of anyone who reported on the paucity of oxygen in hospitals in the state. Such declamations have a chilling effect on media freedom, at a time when there is urgent need for objective reporting and accountability on the worsening pandemic.”
The Editors Guild urged the Supreme Court to take up the pending writ petition, and demanded that Kappan be given the required medical care at the earliest.
Meanwhile, a Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna will on Tuesday take up the habeas corpus plea, seeking Kappan’s release, reported Bar and Bench.
The Kerala chief minister on Sunday intervened in Kappan’s case for the first time. His letter to Adityanath came after Kappan’s wife Raihanath and the Kerala Kerala Union of Working Journalists approached him for help. They also approached the Supreme Court on April 24, urging it to move him to a hospital in Delhi. Kappan had tested positive for the coronavirus on April 23.
On Sunday, 11 MPs from the United Democratic Front wrote to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention. The parliamentarians said that Kappan was chained to the bed like an animal and pointed out that he had suffered a fracture to his jaw bone a few days ago.
The case against Kappan
Kappan, a journalist for the Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, was arrested in October while he was on his way to report on the Hathras case, in which a 19-year-old Dalit woman had died on September 14 after four upper caste man gangraped her. The Uttar Pradesh Police later booked him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and charges of sedition.
Three other men who were in the car with him were also arrested for similar offences.
The police claimed that Kappan was arrested because he was going to Hathras as part of a conspiracy to create law and order trouble and foment caste riots. They claimed that Kappan and others were part of the Popular Front of India, a hardline Muslim organisation that authorities accuse of having links with extremist groups. The Kerala Union of Working Journalists has denied the police’s accusation.
In its chargesheet, the police alleged that Kappan and others received funds of about Rs 80 lakh from financial institutions in Doha and Muscat to create trouble.