The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and the state police on a plea challenging the detention of Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan, who was booked and arrested on his way to a village in Hathras last month, Live Law reported.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists challenging Kappan’s custody. During the last hearing on October 12, the court said it would hear a plea after four weeks and that the petitioner could approach the Allahabad High Court in the interim.
Kappan along with three others was illegally detained on October 5 while he was travelling to meet the family of the 19-year-old Dalit woman from Hathras who was gangraped by four Thakur men. A day later, the four of them were booked under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including sedition.
The Uttar Pradesh Police alleged that the four men are linked to the Popular Front of India, a Kerala-based organisation that the state government has sought to be banned for its alleged involvement in the violence during the protests against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. The case registered against them relates to the alleged conspiracy to instigate riots along caste lines and defame the state government over the rape-and-murder case.
During the hearing on Monday, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, sought interim bail for the journalist, saying he has been in jail since October 4. Sibal argued that the first information report filed at Chandpa police station of Hathras in the case does not mention Kappan’s name. The magistrate did not allow Kappan to meet his lawyers or family or friends, either, he contended.
The bench asked Sibal to first explain why they had not considered approaching the High Court when they had the option to. “We are not on merits of the case,” the court observed. “We are trying to discourage Article 32 petitions [that empowers the Supreme Court to provide relief for violation of fundamental rights].”
Sibal pointed out that the court has entertained similar petitions in the past. “This is a journalist,” he added. “These are exceptional circumstances.”
The court told Sibal that it was aware of similar orders in the past and the vast powers that the court possesses under Article 32. “We want to discourage this trend,” it added, according to Hindustan Times and issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and police.
The matter was posted for hearing on Friday.
Notably, Sibal had raised the matter of Kappan’s arrest during a hearing in Republic TV Editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami’s case before the Supreme Court last week. “A Kerala journalist was arrested by UP police when he was going to Hathras to report,” Sibal had said, according to Live Law. “We came to this court under Article 32. The court said go to lower court. The petition was posted after four weeks. Such things are also happening.” The bench, however, did not pass any comments on Sibal’s submissions.
Meanwhile, a court in Mathura on Friday rejected the bail plea of three men – Atif-ur-Rahman, Masood Ahmad and Mohammad Alam – who were booked and arrested along with Kappan. Rehman is a student, Ahmad is an activist who is pursuing a PhD, and the third accused Alam, is a cab driver.