The Supreme Court on Friday said it was unhappy with the media reportage of the bail hearing of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, who was booked and arrested on his way to a village in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, last month, Bar and Bench reported. Kappan was going to Hathras to cover the gangrape of a Dalit woman who died of her injuries in September.
Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said that media reports claiming the court had denied relief to the journalist were “unfair”.
“There was very unfair reporting about our earlier order,” the chief justice said, while hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists challenging Kappan’s detention. “It was said that we denied you relief.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government, concurred with Bobde. “Yes, there was inaccurate reporting,” he said. “Such reports need to be clarified.”
However, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Kerala Union for Working Journalists, told the court that he “had nothing to do with it”. “Unfair reporting happens everyday,” Sibal said.
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. The Uttar Pradesh Police booked them under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including sedition.
On November 16, the Supreme Court did not grant Kappan bail, but issued a notice and sought the response of the Uttar Pradesh government in connection with the case. The court had also expressed its disinclination to admit the habeas corpus petition, saying it wanted to “discourage the trend” of hearing petitions based on Article 32, which empowers citizens to seek judicial remedy against violation of fundamental rights. Notably, among those who have successfully managed to get an Article 32 petition heard in the Supreme Court is Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami.
Uttar Pradesh government’s affidavit
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government on Friday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, claiming that Kappan was travelling to Hathras “under the garb of journalism” with a “very determined design to create caste divide and disturb the law and order situation in the state”.
The case registered against Kappan and others relates to the alleged conspiracy to instigate riots along caste lines and defame the state government for the rape-and-murder case. The Uttar Pradesh Police has alleged that Kappan has links 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 government affidavit claimed that Kappan was using a “journalist cover” by showing the identity card of a Kerala newspaper, Tejas, which was closed in 2018, according to LiveLaw. The police had also found incriminating material in the car in which Kappan was travelling to Hathras, it added.
It further submitted that Kappan has no locus to approach the the Supreme Court under an Article 32 petition, since he is not in an illegal custody/confinement but is in judicial custody in “pursuance of the valid judicial order passed by the competent court”.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Mehta reiterated the submission and said that Kappan was arrested and remanded by competent court and his bail plea was heard for nine days. “He should approach the High Court,” Mehta said.
Sibal responded by saying that the lawyers had gone to the jail authorities to meet him, but they were denied permission and were asked to go to the magistrate. “The magistrate told us that Supreme Court has not ordered so,” he added. Mehta, however, said that he had no objection to lawyers meeting Kappan.
In this context, the government claimed that the petitioner had resorted to lies and made several false statements only to “sensationalise the case”, and that “none of the fundamental rights of either the petitioner or anybody else is affected except in accordance with law”.
The affidavit also claimed that it has been “falsely alleged” that neither the family members nor the lawyers have been allowed access to Kappan. The state government claimed that no family member, or lawyer has approached the jail authorities till date for a meeting with him.