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On Monday, August 29, the Supreme Court issued notice on the petition filed by Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan challenging the rejection of his bail application in Hathras Conspiracy case by the Allahabad Court, reported LiveLaw.
A bench comprising Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhat fixed the matter for final disposal on September 9 and asked the state to file its reply by September 5. The court granted three days to Kappan after that to reply to the government’s affidavit.
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, as he was arrested enroute.
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.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for Kappan reportedly submitted, “The heart of the allegation is that PFI put 45,000 for terrorist activities. No evidence, no nothing, just allegations. PFI is not a terrorist organization. PFI is not a banned organization. I am a journalist. I was going to Hathras to cover the case. What has happened is that I was working with a newspaper with PFI. I don’t work there anymore.”
As the petition was opposed by Additional Advocate General of the State of UP Garima Prashad, the CJI asked her to file her objections in the matter by placing on record a counter-affidavit.
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.”
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.”
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