The Supreme Court on Monday, 16 November, declined to pass any interim relief in the habeas corpus plea filed on behalf of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, less than a week after it granted interim bail to Republic editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami after going into the details of the case against him.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notice in the plea, and said the matter would be listed on Friday, 20 November, when the State of Uttar Pradesh would have to respond regarding Kappan’s arrest and the request that he be granted interim bail.
The court was hearing the habeas corpus petition against the journalist's arrest which had been filed in the apex court by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) soon after he had been picked up by the police on 5 October, calling the action illegal and unconstitutional.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing KUWJ, requested the court to gran Kappan bail as he had been in jail since 5 October, without there being any details of what he was accused of. “There is no mention of him in the FIR,” he told the court, adding that “This is a journalist, otherwise we would not be approaching the Supreme Court asking for relief under Article 32.”
CJI Bobde asked why the petitioners had not approached the Allahabad High Court for relief, as he had suggested at the last hearing in the matter on 12 October. "I [his lawyers] cannot meet him, how can I approach the high court, I can’t even amend the writ petition in Supreme Court,” Sibal replied.
The CJI said that the court was trying to discourage Article 32 writ petitions being filed for such matters in the Supreme Court, and wanted such matters to go to the relevant high courts first. Although he agreed to issue notice after Sibal hinted at how Arnab Goswami’s case was dealt with last week, he indicated that the court may still direct KUWJ to go to the Allahabad High Court for relief.
Sibal then asked for Kappan to be granted interim bail in the meanwhile given how long he has spent in jail, and without any explanation of the case against him. CJI Bobde agreed to list the matter on Friday, 20 November, when UP’s state counsel will get a chance to respond.
WHY WAS SIDDIQUE KAPPAN ARRESTED?
Kappan, a freelance journalist, was on his way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the alleged gang rape and murder of a Dalit woman there, when he (along with three others he was travelling with) was arrested on 5 October by the UP Police’s Special Task Force.
On 7 October, they were booked for sedition under the Indian Penal Code and under Section 17 of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, pertaining to raising funds for a terrorist act. The police claim they have links to the Popular Front of India (PFI), which is still not a banned organisation in India, but is often referred to as a successor to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
While the other three accused – Atiq-ur Rehman, Masood Ahmed and their driver Alam – have filed bail applications (which have been rejected by the Mathura courts), Kappan is yet to file a bail plea.
On 12 October, a Supreme Court bench headed by CJI Bobde had suggested that Kappan should approach the Allahabad High Court instead, and directed the matter to be listed after four weeks. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the KUWJ, had urged the apex court to consider the implications of the UAPA being invoked here, to make it near-impossible to get bail.
In addition to the main plea in the habeas corpus petition, the KUWJ has also requested the Supreme Court to pass interim directions allowing regular meetings between the journalist and his family and lawyers, after KUWJ lawyer Wills Mathews was not allowed to meet him. The chief judicial magistrate in Mathura failed to take any action when a similar request was raised then.
WHY HAS KAPPAN’S CASE BEEN CONNECTED TO ARNAB GOSWAMI’S?
Kappan’s situation was raised in the Supreme Court at the end of its urgent hearing of Arnab Goswami’s plea for interim bail. Kapil Sibal, who was representing the Maharashtra Government in that case, noted to the bench that
"“A Kerala journalist was arrested by UP Police when was going to Hathras to report. We came to this court under Article 32. The court said go to lower court. The petition was posted after four weeks. Such things are also happening.”"
Justice DY Chandrachud had passed some strong remarks during the hearing of Goswami’s case by a vacation bench of him and Justice Indira Banerjee, saying the constitutional courts should step in when there is an attempt to “nail” the personal liberty of Indian citizens, and that it would be a “travesty of justice” if Goswami and the other accused in that case didn’t get bail, given the kind of case against them for abetment of suicide.
He also said that the Supreme Court and high courts needed to “smell” the FIR against an accused in such cases, and see if a case was actually made out against the accused. When it was suggested that Goswami had already filed a bail application which was being heard within a swift timeframe, Justice Chandrachud had also said that:
"“A technicality cannot be a ground to deny someone personal liberty.”"
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