The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to submit medical records of journalist Siddique Kappan, who has been in prison since October for trying to report on the Hathras gangrape case, Live Law reported.
A three judge bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana was hearing a letter addressed to it by Kappan’s wife seeking his immediate release from Mathura Medical College to Mathura Jail as his “life is in extreme danger”.
Raihanth Kappan said that her husband, who tested positive for the coronavirus on April 23, was “chained like an animal” to a bed in the hospital. A petition was also filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, seeking Kappan’s transfer to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi because of the medical emergency.
“Let us first see the reports,” the chief justice told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the state government. “Please produce medical reports tomorrow. If possible, circulate it today.”
Mehta, however, told the court that the habeas corpus petition of Kerala Union of Working Journalists was not maintainable, according to Bar and Bench. He added that the journalist was produced before court and has been charged for offences under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The solicitor general suggested that Kappan can apply for regular bail.
The judges sought 10 minutes to take up the case due to technical difficulties. But, Mehta insisted that the matter be taken up on Wednesday by a special bench.
“We will hear this matter,” Justice Ramana said. “Don’t know why you want to restrict your prayers. We are hearing this.”
On April 25, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Adityanath seeking expert medical care and humane treatment for Kappan. The chief minister urged the Uttar Pradesh government to consider shifting the Malayalam journalist to another hospital with better facilities. This is the first time Vijayan has intervened in the matter.
A day later, the Editors Guild of India said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports of inhuman treatment being meted out to Kappan. The association also expressed shock that the Supreme Court had not intervened in the case to ensure a fair trial, adding that a habeas corpus plea against Kappan’s arrest was pending before the court for six months.
“All of this goes against the basic canons of a constitutional democracy where independent journalistic enterprises need to be protected rather than repressed,” a statement by the Editors Guild said.
The case against Kappan
Kappan, a journalist for the Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, was arrested in October while he was on his way to report on the Hathras case, in which a 19-year-old Dalit woman had died on September 14 after four upper caste man gangraped her. The Uttar Pradesh Police later booked him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and charges of sedition.
Three other men who were in the car with him were also arrested for similar offences.
The police claimed that Kappan was arrested because he was going to Hathras as part of a conspiracy to create law and order trouble and foment caste riots. They claimed that Kappan and others were part of the Popular Front of India, a hardline Muslim organisation that authorities accuse of having links with extremist groups. The Kerala Union of Working Journalists has denied the police’s accusation.
In its chargesheet, the police alleged that Kappan and others received funds of about Rs 80 lakh from financial institutions in Doha and Muscat to create trouble.