The Government of Uttar Pradesh on Friday submitted to the Supreme Court that Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan was going to Hathras under the "garb of journalism" with a "very determined design" to create a caste divide and disturb the law and order situation.
Kappan was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police on 5 October while he was on his way to Hathras where a young Dalit woman had died after allegedly being gang-raped.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the state government also opposed the plea filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) questioning Kappan's arrest and seeking his bail, saying that the plea is "not maintainable" and the journalists' body has "no locus" as Kappan is already in touch with his advocates and relatives and he himself can file proceedings through his lawyers.
The state government also alleged that Kappan is the office secretary of Popular Front of India (PFI) and was using a "journalist cover" by showing the identity card of a Kerela-based newspaper 'Tejas' which was closed in 2018.
"It is revealed during investigation that he along with other 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 were found carrying incriminating material," the affidavit said.
The matter came up for hearing before a bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian.
During the hearing, CJI Bobde raised concerns over media reports in the case.
"Last time there was misreporting. I am worried about the inaccurate reporting," the CJI said, adding, "The reports said that the journalist was refused relief".
The bench also asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for KUWJ, to go through the reply filed by Uttar Pradesh and file a rejoinder.
"You have the right to file bail and you read the reply and then we will hear you completely," the bench said.
The bench said the state has no objection to an advocate approaching the accused to get his signature for availing the judicial relief.
"List after one week. In the meantime, the accused person''s signature can be obtained in jail for taking recourse in courts," the bench said.
Sibal said that lawyers were earlier restrained from approaching Kappan to get his signature.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, however, countered Sibal's contention and said they were neither stopped earlier and nor there is any opposition on this.
Kappan was arrested on 5 October while he was on his way to Hathras, home to the young Dalit woman who died after being allegedly gang-raped by four upper-caste men.
The police had said it has arrested four people having links with the PFI in Mathura and identified the arrested persons as Siddique from Malappuram, Atiq-ur Rehman from Muzaffarnagar, Masood Ahmed from Bahraich and Alam from Rampur.
".....got much agitated and abusive and behaved in suspicious manner speaking words like "die or kill, we will not give up. Thus, in order to prevent the commission of offence the police official of P.S Manth arrested the occupants of the car/ Accused including Sidhique Kappan at the Toll Plaza Manth, under Section 151/107/116 of Cr.P.C (sic)," a report in Live Law, said, quoting portions of the UP govt's affidavit
The affidavit also said a special task force (STF) has been conducting detailed probe and have been filing progress reports before the state government from which "it has been revealed that further incriminating evidence has been found against all the four accused including the accused Siddique Kappan".
"It is submitted that during the investigation conducted so far, the evidence of the accused having links with banned organisations has emerged," it claimed.
The state government also said that Kappan is not in "illegal custody/confinement" but is in judicial custody.
"The petitioner (KUWJ) has resorted to falsehood and has made several false statements on oath only to sensationalise the case which would become clear on perusal of the following facts," said the affidavit, filed by senior superintendent of jail, District Jail Mathura.
It also alleged when Kappan was brought by the STF to Delhi for a probe, he "misled the police by giving wrong residential address which was found invalid" and he did not assist in the investigation and gave misleading details.
It alleged that KUWJ has concealed the fact that a lawyer hired by them was appearing before the magistrate at Mathura on 6 October and had full knowledge of the time and place of production of the accused.
It said a "completely false narrative" is being made that Kappan is not being permitted to talk to relatives or lawyers, as during judicial custody, he has interacted with his family members on three occasions on phone on his written request.
"It is pertinent to note that accused Siddique Kappan has never requested to meet any relative or any lawyer nor has filed any such application before the competent court/jail authorities till date," it said.
It said out of four persons arrested on 5 October, the remaining three have filed bail pleas which were rejected by the court.
The FIR has been filed under various provisions of the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against four people having alleged links with PFI.
PFI had been accused in the past of funding protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country earlier this year.
Hathras has been in the news following the death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gang-raped on 14 September, 2020, in a village in the district.
Her cremation at night by the authorities, allegedly without the parents' consent, has triggered widespread outrage.
With inputs from PTI