The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, or KUWJ, to file its response to the additional affidavit filed by the Uttar Pradesh government in connection with the arrest of journalist Siddique Kappan, PTI reported. The matter will be heard in the third week of January.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by the journalists’ union 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.
The bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, however, did not agree to the submission of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the KUWJ, that the case be listed in the first week of January instead of third when the courts reopen after the winter break.
“First two weeks [in January] are miscellaneous [weeks when fresh matters will be heard],” the bench said in a hearing conducted through video conferencing.
On November 20, the Uttar Pradesh government had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, claiming that Kappan was going to Hathras under the “garb of journalism with a very determined design to create caste divide and disturb law and order situation”. The state alleged that Kappan is the office secretary of the Popular Front of India and was using a journalist cover by showing identity card of a Kerala-based newspaper, Tejas, which was closed in 2018.
Popular Front of India is a Kerala-based organisation that the Uttar Pradesh government has sought to be banned for its alleged involvement in the violence during the protests against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act.
During the hearing on Monday, the Uttar Pradesh government reiterated that Kappan was “directly and closely associated” with leaders of the Popular Front of India, who have been “executive members of [the] banned [outfit] SIMI [Students Islamic Movement of India”, reported The Indian Express.
It alleged that the KUWJ was trying to cover up his “true identity” under the “garb of a journalist”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Uttar Pradesh further alleged that the daily Tejas, which Kappan allegedly worked for, was the mouthpiece of PFI that propagated extreme views, created religious discord and even claimed Osama Bin Laden was a martyr.
The government claimed that during Siddique’s tenure with the newspaper, all the editors were executive members of the PFI. The government also claimed that “several incriminating evidence” were found from Kappan’s residence during a search on November 11. “His SBI [State Bank of India] bank accounts reflected various suspicious cash deposits on numerous occasions and same is under investigation,” it said.
Also, the Uttar Pradesh authorities questioned the bonafide of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, saying the organisation itself was facing a vigilance inquiry for embezzlement and misappropriation of government funds.
On December 2, the Uttar Pradesh government had told the bench that “shocking findings” have emerged in the investigation so far in the case against Kappan. KUWJ, meanwhile, had refused to approach the Allahabad High Court as suggested by the court for seeking bail and other reliefs.
While hearing both the sides, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had held that one cannot compare the bail plea of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami with that of Kappan, as “every case was different”.