Image courtesy: Shaheen Abdulla | https://cpj.org/
The Allahabad High Court has admitted the bail application filed by journalist Siddique Kappan seeking to quash the “patently illegal prosecution sanctions” against him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan rejected the objection of the advocate for the state of Uttar Pradesh on the issue of the maintainability of the application and has given the state three weeks to file its response. The judge categorically said that no more time would be given and has listed the matter for March 15, 2022.
The Mathura Court transferred the investigation conducted by ATS to Special Court formed at Sessions Court, Lucknow. Now the case is pending at Special Court (NIA), Additional Sessions Judge-lll, Sessions Court, Lucknow.
Brief background of the case
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.
He was arrested by the Mathura police on October 5, 2020, along with three others – Ateeq-ur-Rehman, Masood Ahmed and Alam, and has been detained ever since on trumped up charges. He was arrested on an apprehension that he may cause a breach of peace but later on he was charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and till today he has not been granted bail.
Soon after his arrest, 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 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.”
A day after Kappan’s arrest on October 5, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) had filed a habeas corpus petition, challenging his custody. The petition argued that the arrest was illegal and unconstitutional and contended that Kappan’s detention violates his fundamental rights under articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. An intervention application was also moved by the petitioner union seeking directions from the top court to permit Siddique to speak to his lawyers and family members.
The petition first came up a week later, on October 12, 2020, before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. The court, however, expressed its disinclination to entertain the petition and nudged senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for KUWJ, to approach the high court instead. The bench then listed the matter after four weeks and also refused to issue notice to the UP government on the matter.
Meanwhile, on October 29, 2020 an application was filed alleging that multiple attempts from KUWJ and Adv. Mathews to meet Kappan since his arrest failed. A bail application was also filed. It was after 43 days in custody, on 17 November, that Kappan finally spoke to Adv. Mathews (his Advocate) on the phone for five minutes.
Proceedings before the Supreme Court
On October 29, 2020, KUWJ filed an application before the Supreme Court for an interim direction on permission for regular interview over video conferencing of Siddique, with his family members and lawyers. The application also prayed for a direction to the District Magistrate Mathura or a High Court Judge to visit the New Mathura Jail to take note of the human rights violation in it, and the courts of Mathura and to submit a detailed report before the top court in order to take corrective steps.
The application claimed that, “There are no justifiable grounds to reject the application of the counsel for the petitioner to meet the accused, and the said order violates fundamental rights of the Detenu and is against the spirit of rule of law.” The plea further stated that Kappan was not allowed to sign his Vakalatnama for authorising his counsel and when the said lawyer attempted to meet him in the Court during his production before the CJM, the Presiding Officer denied permission.
KUWJ denied that Kappan has any connection with Popular Front of India (PFI). In this regard, the KUWJ stated that the UP Government has taken inconsistent stances in two affidavits. While the first affidavit of UP Government filed on November 20 asserted that Kappan was the “office secretary” of PFI, the second affidavit filed by it on December 9 vaguely stated that Kappan was “in touch with the officials of PFI”.
The rejoinder reads, “It is a matter of grave concern that, the respondents have again claimed that Mr. Kappan has committed very serious offences, despite there being materials to support any allegations in the FIR, or in the investigation, other than vague statements, thereby seriously prejudicing the faith of the common man in the legal system and the procedure established by law.”
Interim bail to meet Kappan’s ailing mother
In early January 2021, KUWJ had moved an urgent application in the Supreme Court, seeking Kappan’s immediate release from Mathura jail to meet his 90-year-old ailing mother, Kadija Kutty.
On February 15, the court granted him bail and said, “Mother is said to be in a critical situation and that she is likely not to survive for many days. In these circumstances, we consider it appropriate to permit the detenu to visit his mother and return to prison at the end of the 5th day.”
However, the court imposed strict conditions on Kappan. He was not allowed to give any interview to media outlets including social media and was also directed to not meet “members of the public”. He was entitled to meet his relatives and doctors only.
The Court also ordered that Kappan would be escorted by the Uttar Pradesh Police and his house will be guarded by the police from outside. Tushar Mehta vehemently opposed the bail plea on grounds of the serious charges against him but the former CJI intervened and said, “This is unfair Mr. Mehta. We are talking about the mother. We don’t think a man, whatever he may be, will lie about his dying mother”.
When his mother Khadija passed away in June 2021, Kappan could not bid her goodbye or perform the last rites as he was lodged in Mathura jail.
When the country was reeling under the second wave, Kappan had collapsed in the bathroom with serious injuries and eventually tested positive for Covid-19. He was hospitalised in a Mathura hospital, when the KUWJ prayed for the top court to take cognisance of his deteriorating health condition and in the interest of justice, they sought for his transfer to New Delhi for treatment.
After taking the fall, his wife wrote to the former CJI complaining that Kappan was allegedly “chained to a hospital bed like an animal” and was not allowed to use the bathroom. Advocate Will Mathew told The Print that Raihanth found out about her husband’s condition when she spoke with him over the phone after he was moved to the hospital. Mathew said, “Before he was admitted, Kappan had a fall in the jail bathroom due to weakness. He sustained injuries on his face and was unable to speak clearly. He simply told her, when she called, that he did not want to stay in the hospital, or else, he would die. He said he would prefer to remain in jail.”
In an online event to pay tribute to the political prisoners, Raihanth had said, “Siddique called me from someone else’s phone. He fears that his jawline is broken. He can’t even eat properly; his face is paining. He was constantly asking to be discharged. After being hospitalised, he was not allowed to go to the bathroom. He is handcuffed to the bed. He is urinating in a plastic bottle lying on the bed itself. He said he cannot eat because of severe pain.”
Eventually, the Supreme Court ordered his transfer to a hospital in Delhi for treatment. The order read, “We are of the view that owing to the apparent precarious health condition of the arrestee, it is necessary to provide adequate and effective medical assistance to him and to allay all apprehension relating to his health, it would be in the interest of justice to shift Sidhique Kappan – the arrestee, either to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital or to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) or any other Government Hospital in Delhi for the proper medical treatment. The needful shall in this regard be done at the earliest. We state that the most precious fundamental ‘right to life’ unconditionally embraces even an undertrial.”
In May 2021, SabrangIndia reported that Siddique was “secretly discharged” from AIIMS and was taken to Mathura Jail. Raihanath had at that time told SabrangIndia, “I only learnt about it late last night that he may have been discharged. I did not know any updates nor was his lawyer informed and he was shifted secretly at night. He was brought to hospital and since May 1 when I came to Delhi, I had been trying to see him once.”
Mathura Court dropped some charges
In June 2021, the Mathura court also dropped the proceedings against Siddique Kappan and three other persons in connection with a case registered against them under charges related to apprehension of breach of peace while they were on their way to Hathras.
LiveLaw reported that The Sub Divisional Magistrate of Mant, Ram Datt Ram dropped the proceedings against them, as the police failed to complete the inquiry against them within the prescribed period of six months as stipulated under Section 116 (6) of CrPC. They have been discharged of the charges under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) sections 151(Arrest to prevent the commission of cognisable offences), 107 (Security for keeping the peace in other cases) and 116 (Inquiry as to truth of information).
Bail rejected by sessions Court
In July 2021, Kappan’s bail plea was rejected by Additional Sessions Judge Anil Kumar Pandey who ruled that there was prima facie case that the journalist and other co-accused were trying to disturb the law and other situation when they were heading to cover the gang-rape incident in Uttar Pradesh. The Mathura court also observed that Kappan’s financial transactions in his bank account revealed that he was provided with the funds to conduct “anti-national” and illegal activities. The judge ruled that they damaged the integrity of the nation by provoking a particular community.
PCI president Umakant Lakhera told The Wire that, “the charges against Kappan under the UAPA and other laws were arbitrary, and that the police had no evidence and had been unable to file a chargesheet within the mandatory 90 days. Despite this, Kappan had been refused bail.”
The Application stated, “Police have falsely implicated Kappan for the above mentioned offences, despite there being no recovery, and there was not even any scope for reasonable suspicion.” Kappan is a respectable citizen of society without any criminal antecedents and was, above all, a journalist by profession having an identity card which was with him at the time of arrest. It was not the arrest Mr. Sidhique Kappan, but the arrest of Journalist Sidhique Kappan, as it was an act of stopping a journalist from discharging his duty, seriously affecting the freedom of the press.”
The order dated July 6, 2021 may be read here: