The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on the habeas corpus plea filed for the release of journalist Siddique Kappan. He was arrested on October 5 by the Uttar Pradesh police while he was on his way to Hathras to meet the family of the 19-year-old Dalit woman who died after she was allegedly gangraped. The petition was filed by Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), of which Siddique is the Delhi unit secretary.
SC bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the New Delhi-based journalist, to consider approaching the High Court with the plea, and indicated that it may send the case to the High Court. The apex court, however, has agreed to hear the case on Friday, November 20 and has asked the state of Uttar Pradesh to be present in the court.
During the hearing, Kapil Sibal said that the FIR filed in the case does not mention Siddique at all, and the magistrate did not allow Siddique to meet his lawyer and his family. However, the FIR accessed by TNM mentions the journalist’s name. When asked why the lawyer could not approach the High Court or file an amended petition, Kapil reiterated that the journalist has not been allowed to meet his lawyer.
The SC also is likely to hear on Friday the application for interim directions to allow Siddique’s lawyers to meet him and to allow his family to have regular interviews over video-conferencing with him. Since his arrest, Siddique has not been allowed to meet his lawyer or his family. The application also sought to direct the Mathura District court judge or the High Court judge to visit the New Mathura Jail, where Siddique is lodged, and to inquire about alleged human rights violation in the jail and courts.
Advocate Wills Mathew, who is representing KUWJ, explained why they approached the SC instead of the HC. "We approached the Supreme Court and not the High Court, because the dispute is not between Siddique and the state. It is the matter of a person's freedom of speech. The court allowed us to amend the writ petition. But without meeting Siddique, how can we amend it? Our plea to meet him was also rejected," the lawyer told TNM, adidng that the DK Basu guidelines, laid down by the Supreme Court, was not followded. The guidelines are procedures that the police must follow when they arrest or detain a person.
The Supreme Court also said that it is “trying to discourage article 32 petitions”. Article 32 in the Indian Constitution gives an individual the right to move the apex court to seek justice. The SC will also have the power to issue orders and directions on habeas corpus and prohibition, among others.
On November 11, during the hearing of Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami's interim bail, Kapil Sibal had pointed out Siddique's ordeal, stating that the apex court asked him to approach a lower court to grant him bail. He also highlighted the disparity in granting relief to journalists who have been jailed for various reasons. A week after Siddique’s arrest, the Supreme Court had adjourned the habeas corpus plea and asked the petitioners to approach the Allahabad High Court. The habeas corpus was filed by Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ).
On October 5, Siddique, along with three other people, was travelling to Hathras when their vehicle was stopped by the Uttar Pradesh police, who then seized his mobile phone, laptop and some literature that they claimed, “could disrupt peace”. Initially, they accused Siddique of having links to the Popular Front of India (PFI). Although this was not mentioned in the first information report (FIR), the Mathura police later booked all four on charges of sedition as well as under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly running a website with a bigger conspiracy plan.
The four have been lodged at the Mathura jail under judicial remand. The Crime Branch of Mathura police was initially probing the case. It was later transferred to the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF).
Siddique has not applied for bail yet. On November 13, the Mathura District court dismissed the bail plea of the three persons who were booked along with Siddique: Atiq-ur Rehman, Masood Ahmed and Alam. Dismissing their bail pleas, Additional District Judge Mayur Jain said that the charges against them are serious and that they cannot be set at liberty on bail as the investigation in the case is still underway.
"It has been 36 days since I spoke to Kappan. I have no idea where he is. Even our lawyers were not allowed to meet him. He is diabetic and we have no idea about his health condition,” Siddique’s wife Raihanath told the media as she sought the intervention of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday.
"The Supreme Court granted permission to my husband to speak to his mother after we moved a petition. But I could not speak to him so far. Our lawyers were unable to meet him. Without getting his signature we cannot file a bail application. We are really concerned about his health," she added.
Mother of three children, Raihanath has been running from pillar to post seeking justice for Kappan and her family. "We heard certain news reports that Kappan received Rs 1 crore from somewhere. But those spreading rumours ignore the fact that our house has been under construction for the last eight years. We used to save from his salary and the construction has now been halted," she said.
She said she believes in the judicial system and wants the truth to come out. "They have charged him under the UAPA for going to report the death of a 19-year-old. It seems like a political plot against my husband. I will fight till justice is served. He is the sole breadwinner of my family. We don't know what all charges will be added now," she said.
She also said their application seeking permission to meet Siddique Kappan on October 16 was rejected. "The court asked our lawyers to go to jail to meet him. But the jail officials refused to allow it and asked them to move the court. However, the application was rejected," she said.
(With inputs from PTI)