The Supreme Court has agreed to list Siddique Kappan’s plea challenging the Allahabad High Court’s order refusing his bail application in Hathras conspiracy case. The matter was urgently mentioned by Advocate Hairs Biran before Chief Justice NV Ramana.
According to the Indian Express, the plea stated, “As a result of the rejection of the application, the Petitioner, a journalist of 12 years’ experience, who has also served as the secretary of the Delhi chapter of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists continues to be incarcerated. Presently, the Petitioner has spent almost two years behind bars, on the basis of trumped-up charges, only because he sought to discharge his professional duty of reporting on the infamous case of the Hathras rape/murder.”
The application further stated, “The HC judgement grossly overlooks the well-established principles regarding the grant of bail, and without affording any cogent reasons, has mechanically dismissed his bail application. The High Court, whilst passing the impugned order has egregiously failed to discharge its bounden duty of examining the entire material on record to decide whether or not a prima facie case has been made out.”
In the High Court order denying bail to Kappan, Justice Krishna Pahal of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court observed that based on the investigation on record, the journalist “had no work at Hathras.” According to the court, “The State machinery was at tenterhooks owing to the tension prevailing due to various types of information being viral across all forums of media including the internet. The said sojourn of the applicant with co-accused persons who do not belong to media fraternity is a crucial circumstance going against him.”
Siddique Kappan, is a Delhi-based journalist working with a Malayalam news portal Azhimukham. He is also secretary of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) Delhi unit, and a senior reporter and also a member of Press Club of India. He had gone to cover the Hathras horror of the alleged gangrape and murder of the 19-year-old Dalit woman, that had made headlines all around the world. Siddique Kappan never reached the spot from where he had intended to write his news reports.
Soon after his arrest in October 2020, the KUWJ issued a statement expressing that they could not get in touch with Siddique and that neither the Hathras Police Station nor the State Police Department could provide any information on taking him into custody.
Since the day of arrest, Kappan has been treated inhumanly, has been allegedly tortured in custody, and was denied even his fundamental rights to get access to his lawyer. The Hindu reported that the Delhi-based journalist was among four people arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police when they were on their way to Hathras. They were arrested after the State police claimed that a “conspiracy to defame the State government and trigger caste riots over the Hathras incident” was afoot. The four were taken into custody at a toll plaza in Mathura when they were travelling in a car from Delhi to Hathras. The car was stopped after “police found their activities suspicious,” following which they were taken into custody, according to the Mathura police, said the news report.
The First Information Report (FIR) against Kappan, registered on October 7, 2020 in Mathura, charges him under Section 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and under sections 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorism act), 18 (punishment for conspiracy etc.) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA) and also under sections 65 (Tampering with computer source documents), 72 (Penalty for Breach of confidentiality and privacy) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act).
In April 2021, the police filed a chargesheet against Kappan listing more than 50 witnesses to support the police charges. In this 5,000-page chargesheet, the UP police alleged that Kappan and others received funds totalling almost Rs. 80 lakhs from financial institutions in Doha and Muscat to create unrest in the state. The police claimed that they were all Popular Front of India (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 law and order situation.”