The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Uttar Pradesh government on the bail plea of Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan, arrested in October 2020 while on his way to Hathras where a Dalit woman had died after allegedly being gang-raped.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat asked the Home department of the Uttar Pradesh government to file its response to Kappan’s plea by September 5 and fixed the bail plea of scribe for final disposal four days after that on Friday next week.
At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Kappan, said the journalist is in jail since October, 2020 and has been accused of taking part in terrorist activities.
“The allegations in the charge sheet are that PFI (Popular Front of India) paid me Rs 45,000 for terrorist activities,” the senior lawyer said, adding that he has been charged under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
These are “just allegations”, he said, adding the PFI is not even a banned organisation.
“I have nothing to do with PFI. I am a journalist. I was once working with a media organisation which allegedly had some kind of connection with the PFI. I am not working with that organisation anymore,” Sibal said.
He said like other journalists, Kappan was also going to Hathras.
Senior advocate Garima Prasad, appearing for the state government, said there were eight accused in the case and moreover, two witnesses have been threatened as well.
Two accused in the present case have been allegedly involved in a Delhi riots and the Bulandshahr riots cases respectively.
“We will list the matter for disposal Friday next. You (State government) file the reply,” the bench said and asked the counsel for Kappan to file rejoinder to the reply within three days after September 5.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had earlier this month rejected the bail application of Kappan, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the alleged Hathras conspiracy case.
The bail plea was mentioned on Wednesday last for urgent listing before a bench headed by the Chief Justice (since retired) N V Ramana, which agreed to list it on August 26.
"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 plea said.
"Therefore, the present petition raises seminal questions pertaining to the right to liberty, as well as the freedom of expression and speech vested in independent media under the aegis of the Constitution," it said.
The plea claimed that the high court has failed to take note of the fact that the FIR or the charge sheet, "ex-facie" does not make out a case for the invocation of sections 17 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
While section 17 of the UAPA deals with punishment for raising funds for a terrorist act, section 18 pertains to punishment for conspiracy, etc.
"The conclusion of the high court to the effect that the petitioner had no work in Hathras is unfounded and baseless and reflects a total non-application of mind. The high court has glossed over the fact that the petitioner, in the discharge of his duties, has travelled extensively over the country for the purpose of reportage," the plea claimed.
Kappan was arrested in October 2020 while he was on his way to Hathras, home to the Dalit woman who had died after being allegedly gang-raped.
The FIR has been filed under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA against four persons having alleged links with the Popular Front of India (PFI).
The PFI had been accused in the past of funding protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country.
The police had earlier claimed that the accused were trying to disturb the law and order in Hathras.
The high court had dismissed his bail plea saying, "Considering the facts and circumstances of the case, nature of the offence, evidence on record, considering the complicity of the accused, the severity of punishment and the settled law propounded by the apex court, at this stage, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, this court is not inclined to release the applicant on bail."
Earlier, a Mathura court had rejected Kappan's bail plea after which he had approached the high court.
The rape victim died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after her alleged rape by four men from her village on September 14, 2020. She was cremated in the middle of the night in her village.
Her family members had claimed that the cremation, which took place well past midnight, was without their consent and that they were not allowed to bring home the body one last time.
(With PTI inputs)