The Allahabad High Court has rejected the bail petition moved by Delhi-based Malayali journalist Siddique Kappan, who has been in jail since his arrest in October 2020 for trying to go to Hathras to report on the rape and murder of a Dalit woman by dominant caste men. Justice Ravi Kant of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court observed in the order that a perusal of the chargesheet and documents produced in court “prima facie reveal that the applicant has committed the offence of trying to incite riots” and “used journalism as a cover to fulfil his ulterior motives”.
The HC noted the submissions made by the Uttar Pradesh police that Siddique and the other people travelling with him — Athikur Rehman, Alam and Masood — were “found carrying pamphlets 'How To Escape' while inciting riots” and he and other co-accused persons “received financial assistance through illegal means to go to Hathras”. The UP counsel had also submitted that 47 papers in Malayalam were recovered pertaining to banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) from Kappan’s house.
Siddique’s lawyer submitted to the court that he had been falsely implicated in the case, and that he was going to Hathras to discharge his duty as a professional journalist when he was illegally detained by the police. His counsel also rejected the prosecution’s allegation that Siddique and others were “collecting funds and running a website called ‘Carrd.com’ to incite riots”, stating that they were not aware of such a website at all. He also said that Siddique has no criminal history and the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) invoked against him are not applicable. The counsel also said that Kappan as a journalist had interviewed many political leaders, including BJP leaders, and there was no bias towards SIMI in his reporting.
Justice Ravi Kant, however, dismissed these submissions, stating that Siddique’s submission that he is a journalist and was only going to Hathras to report “stands nullified” due to the allegations made against him in the UP police chargesheet, and the fact that the persons he was arrested with were not journalists. “The tainted money being used by the applicant and his colleagues cannot be ruled out,” the High Court said in its order.
“It has come up in the investigation that the applicant had no work at Hathras. 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 HC added.
The court also noted Supreme Court’s verdict in the Zahoor Watali case, where it said that a court should not be inclined to grant bail if it feels that there are reasonable grounds to believe the accusations are prima facie true.
“A perusal of the chargesheet and documents adduced, prima facie reveal that the applicant has committed the offence,” the High Court order states. Justice Kant ruled that the bail application is found devoid of merits and dismissed it. The High Court added that the observations made during the bail hearing will not have any bearing on the merits of the case during the trial.
Kappan was arrested under the draconian UAPA on October 1, 2020, while he and three others were on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the gangrape and murder of a Dalit woman. The Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force had filed a 5,000 page chargesheet in the case, claiming that he “only reported about Muslims” and that “reporting on riots is also communal”.