The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to shift journalist Siddique Kappan from Mathura Jail to a government hospital in Delhi for better medical treatment, Live Law reported. Kappan has been in prison since October for trying to report on the Hathras gangrape case.

A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna was hearing a letter addressed to it by Kappan’s wife, Raihanth Kappan, seeking his immediate release from Mathura Medical College to Mathura Jail as his “life is in extreme danger”. In her letter to Ramana, Raihanth Kappan said that the journalist was “chained like an animal” to a bed in the hospital.

The bench, however, held that for Kappan’s family which belongs to Kerala, it would be easier to access a hospital in Delhi, than in Uttar Pradesh. It took note of the fact that Kappan suffered from co-morbidities and had sustained injuries after he fell in the jail.

Solictor General Tushar Mehta’s opposed the suggestions made by the judges and submitted that the facilities at Mathura hospital were sufficient. He also told the court that Kappan’s RT-PCR test for coronavirus had yielded a negative result, even as an earlier rapid antigen test had shown that he had contracted the infection. In a separate plea seeking Kappan’s release, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists had said that the journalist had contracted coronavirus.

“Thousands of honest tax payers are getting treatment in Mathura hospital,” Mehta said. “Why should the accused get a special treatment just because a so-called association of journalists has filed a habaes corpus petition? Why should an accused who associated with banned organisation get preferential treatment over honest tax payers?”

Mehta added that more than 100 prisoners in Mathura jail were suffering from co-morbidities. To this, the court pointed out that they had not moved a petition seeking relief, like Kappan’s wife did. The court said that the order was not a reflection on the state government, but one passed on health grounds, Live Law reported.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had directed the state government to submit medical records of Kappan.

On April 25, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Adityanath seeking expert medical care and humane treatment for Kappan, who has multiple comorbidities and was allegedly tied to his prison bed. The chief minister urged the Uttar Pradesh government to consider shifting the Malayalam journalist to another hospital with better facilities.

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.

SC rejects habeas corpus petition

The court, however, rejected a habeas corpus petition filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists seeking Kappan’s release.

Advocate Wills Mathew appearing for the journalists’ body argued that Kappan was illegally arrested and that the allegations listed in the First Information Report and chargesheet does not constitute any offence. Responding to allegations of Kappan having links with extremist groups, Mathew said being a journalist he had to come in contact with persons from all walks of life and that he cannot be made an accused on the basis of his association itself.

Mehta objected to Kappan’s credentials as a journalist, saying that he was carrying an invalid press card of a newspaper that had shut three years ago. He alleged that the newspaper, Thejas, was a mouthpiece of the Popular Front of India, which he said was a banned organisation. However, when the court asked Mehta if the PFI was indeed banned, Mehta said some states had passed an order in that regard and the Centre was considering to do so.

The court held that the habeas corpus petition could not be maintained, but gave Kappan the liberty to seek legal remedies for bail in the case, according to Live Law.

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.