Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Wednesday held that one cannot compare the bail plea of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami with that of Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan, as “every case was different”, Bar and Bench reported.
The matter came up during a hearing of the habeas corpus petition filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists challenging Kappan’s detention. Kappan was arrested along with three others in Mathura in October while on his way to cover the Hathras gangrape and murder case. The Uttar Pradesh Police later booked him and others under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and charges of sedition.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, argued that the plea in Kappan’s case was not filed by him, but by the union. “The accused is not the party here in the matter,” he told the court.
Sibal countered, saying he would implead Kappan’s wife in the plea and would like to argue the matter in the court. “The High Court has granted one month’s time on habeas corpus plea of other accused in the same case and I want to argue here,” Sibal said, according to PTI. “Hear me finally.”
When CJI Bobde asked why the petitioner had not moved the Allahabad High Court as recommended, Sibal pointed out that the Supreme Court held a special sitting for Goswami and granted him bail on November 11, even though the matter was pending in the Bombay High Court. “In Arnab Goswami’s case, bail was pending before lower court and still this court entertained it,” Sibal told the court.
To this, the chief justice of India responded: “Every case is different.”
The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, further rejected Sibal’s plea to not adjourn the matter, citing the personal liberty of the journalist. “Please don’t list after two weeks... This is about liberty,” Sibal said.
The Supreme Court adjourned the matter till next week.
The Supreme Court had granted interim bail to Arnab Goswami, who was arrested in a 2018 abetment to suicide case by the Maharashtra Police. During the hearing, Justice DY Chandrachud had expressed his displeasure with the Bombay High Court, saying that constitutional courts have the duty to intervene when personal liberty is at stake. On November 27, the court had then explained its decision to hear Goswami’s case on priority, noting that criminal law should not become “a tool for selective harassment of citizens”.
‘Shocking findings against Kappan’: UP government
During Wednesday’s hearing on Kappan’s release, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Supreme Court that “shocking findings” have emerged in the investigation so far against the journalist.
“The accused was found with an identity card of a newspaper which was shut three years ago,” Solicitor General Mehta told the court, according to Live Law. “What kind of a journalist is he?”
The Uttar Pradesh government, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court last month, had made multiple claims about Kappan, including that has been using a “journalist cover” and an identity card of a Kerala-based newspaper Tejas which was shut in 2018. However, it has failed to provide any evidence to support the claim.
“It is revealed during investigation that he along with other PFI activists and their student wing [Campus Front of India] leaders were going to Hathras under the garb of journalism with a very determined design to create a caste divide and disturb the law-and-order situation [and] were found carrying incriminating material,” the Uttar Pradesh government had claimed.
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 state government has alleged that Kappan held an official post with 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.
Kappan ‘beaten with lathi, subjected to mental torture’, alleges union
Meanwhile, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists in its rejoinder affidavit before the Supreme Court, on Tuesday alleged that Kappan was “was beaten with lathi and slapped” in Mathura jail, Bar and Bench reported.
The rejoinder affidavit cited observations from a half-an-hour meeting between KUWJ lawyer Wills Mathews and Kappan in Mathura jail on November 21, according to The Wire.
It claimed that Kappan was denied sleep and medicines on October 5 and October 6, even though he is diabetic and on medication. Kappan was beaten up, he was dragged by the jail authorities and was subjected to “mental torture”, the affidavit added.
The KUWJ further stated that the Uttar Pradesh government has given “misleading facts” in their submissions before the court and that Kappan was arrested “upon instructions”, despite the fact that “no incriminating material” was found from his possession.