After spending almost two years in jail under an Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case charged during the 2020 Hathras incident, journalist Siddique Kappan was granted bail by the Supreme Court on September 9.
Kappan, a reporter for Malayalam news portal Azhimukham and secretary of the Delhi unit of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), was arrested along with three others in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in October 2020 while on his way to Hathras to report on the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old dalit girl.
A bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) UU Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha said today that every person has the right to freedom of speech and expression, and the material produced by the prosecution attributed to Kappan as a toolkit, seemed to be in a foreign language, Bar and Bench reported.
“Every person has a right to free expression. He is trying to show that (Hathras) victim needs justice and raise a common voice. Will this be a crime in eyes of law,” the bench asked.
The bench said that it was granting him bail “considering the length of custody undergone by the appellant and the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case”.
The court directed that Kappan should stay in Delhi for the first six weeks after release and report to the local police station every Monday. After this period, he will be at liberty to go to Kerala, where he will report to the local police station every Monday. It also asked him to surrender his passport and not to get in touch with anyone connected with the controversy.
Responding to senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani appearing on behalf of the State of UP, who accused Kappan of being associated with the Popular Front of India (PFI) and of going to Hathras to “create unrest”, Justice Bhat said, “There were protests at India Gate in 2011 also for Nirbhaya. Sometimes protests are needed to bring a change. You know after that there was (a) change in laws. These are protests Mr Jethmalani.”
The Supreme Court then proceeded to grant him bail. The Court directed that Kappan should stay in Delhi for the first six weeks after release and report at the local police station every Monday. After this period, he will be at liberty to go to Kerala, where he will report to the local police station every Monday. It also asked him to surrender his passport and not to get in touch with anyone connected with the controversy.
Kappan’s wife, Raihana Siddique, informed the media that she had moved a bail application with regard to the Enforcement Directorate case against him. “I hope Kappan will soon get bail in the ED case also. It was registered in connection with the UAPA case. I thank everyone who stood with my family and me in this legal fight. We cannot explain the trauma we had gone through in the past two years,” she said.
The prosecution’s case is that Kappan and the co-accused were travelling to Hathras with an intention to disturb harmony in the area. It was stated that they were collecting funds to run a website full of misinformation and to incite violence.
All of them were charged under Sections 17 and 18 of UAPA, Section 124A (sedition), Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion) and Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 65, 72 and 75 of the Information Technology Act.
A Mathura court had rejected Kappan’s bail plea in July 2021 on the ground that there was prima facie case that Kappan and other co-accused were trying to disturb the law and order situation when they were heading to cover the Hathras gang rape incident in Uttar Pradesh.
He then approached the High Court.
Single-judge Justice Krishan Pahal, however, rejected the plea stating that a prima facie case was established by the prosecution that his travel with co-accused who did not belong to the media fraternity, as well as tainted money being used by him and his colleagues, were crucial circumstances going against him.
This led to the appeal before the top court in which the bail was granted on Friday.
DUJ WELCOMES SC ORDER
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has welcomed the Supreme Court order allowing bail to journalist and former secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists Delhi unit Siddique Kappan in the UAPA case against him.
“Though delayed, this bail order is most welcome. We now hope that bail will also be granted to Kappan in another case filed against him under the PMLA and he will be out of jail”, it said in a statement.
The DUJ, which has been part of the protests to seek the journalist’s release, also appreciated the efforts taken by Kappan’s family, colleagues and friends, the KUWJ and advocates including senior lawyer Kapil Sibal to ensure justice for Kappan.