The Uttar Pradesh Police has arrested a journalist and three other people in Mathura while they were on their way to Hathras, home to a Dalit woman who died after being allegedly gang-raped.
The Press Association and the Indian Women Press Corps on Wednesday described the arrest of a Hathras bound journalist as the Uttar Pradesh government’s attempt to "silence" the media and demanded his immediate release.
Siddique Kappan and three others were arrested in Mathura while they were on their way to Hathras, where a Dalit woman was assaulted and allegedly gangraped on September 14. She died a fortnight later in a Delhi hospital.
Uttar Pradesh police on Monday said the four people had links with the Popular Front of India and its affiliate in Mathura.
"The UP government claims that the journalist has links with some groups but has not offered any proof in this regard," the Indian Women Press Corps (IWPC) and the Press Association said in a statement.
Condemning the arrest of Kappan, a contributor for a Kerala-based website, they pointed out that he was on his way to Hathras to report on the story.
His mobile phone and laptop were seized by the police, the statement said.
The state government had banned the entry of the media in Hathras for two days, denying journalists their right to report the story from Hathras, thereby violating the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution, the IWPC and Press Association said.
The Press Association is a media body of accredited journalists, while the IWPC is an association of women journalists.
The Uttar Pradesh police had on Monday said it has arrested four people having links with the Popular Front of India and its affiliate in Mathura.
The PFI had been accused of funding protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country earlier this year and the UP police had sought a ban on the outfit.
The police had identified the arrested persons as Siddique from Malappuram, Atiq-ur Rehman from Muzaffarnagar, Masood Ahmed from Bahraich and Alam from Rampur.
Hours after the arrest, a prominent journalist body of Kerala identified Malappuram native Siddique by his full name as Siddique Kappan, saying he is "a senior Delhi-based journalist, working for several Malayalam media houses, including azhimukham.com".
Reacting to Kappan’s arrest, the Delhi unit of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath seeking his release, saying he was going to Hathras only to perform his duty as a reporter.
Terming Kappan’s arrest as “illegal and unconstitutional”, the KUWJ also filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking his immediate production before the court and release from the "illegal detention".
Kappan is also the KUWJ's secretary and was proceeding to Hathras only to do his duty as a reporter, KUWJ's Delhi unit president Miji Jose told the chief minister in his letter, urging him to order his release.
"We understand that he was taken into custody by Uttar Pradesh police from Hathras toll plaza. Our efforts and the efforts by some advocates based in Delhi to contact him were not successful," KUWJ said.
The Hathras police station and the state police have not provided any information so far on Kappan's arrest, it added.
"Mr Kappan was trying to do his duty as a reporter. We urge you to get him released at the earliest," KUWJ urged the UP chief minister.
The Uttar Pradesh police, meanwhile, said it has also seized from the arrested people their mobile phones, laptops and some literature, which could have an impact on peace and law and order.
During interrogation, it came to light that the four arrested people had links with the PFI and its associate organisation Campus Front of India, the UP police had claimed.
Hathras has been in the news following the death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gang-raped on September 14 in a village in the district. And her cremation at night, allegedly without the parents' consent, has triggered widespread outrage.
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