Hathras ‘Conspiracy’: Defying SC Order, UP Court Won't Let Lawyer Meet Journalist Held on UAPA

The Mathura chief judicial magistrate’s dismissal of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists' application flies in the face of entrenched constitutional values.

New Delhi: Mathura chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Anju Rajput on Friday dismissed the application filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) for meeting Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan, currently lodged at Mathura jail after his arrest in connection with the Hathras ‘conspiracy’ case.

The present and past office bearers of the KUWJ, in their application before the CJM, wanted permission to meet Kappan for the purpose of amending his pending writ petition in the Supreme Court. Advocate Wills Mathews was with them at Mathura jail for this purpose.

The KUWJ brought to the notice of the CJM that after the Kappan’s arrest, his mother, Kadija Kutty, aged 90, and his wife, Raihanath, and children are totally in dark about the reasons for his arrest, and want to talk to him over the phone. He was not allowed to talk to them earlier. His mother is in a critical condition with deteriorating health after his arrest, the KUWJ pointed out.

Three present and past office-bearers of the KUWJ, namely P.K. Manikandhan, Prasanth M. Nair and Anil V. Anand, along with Mathews sought permission to meet Kappan on Friday for 30 minutes. They also requested permission from the CJM to arrange a talk through WhatsApp  video between Kappan and his mother and wife. The CJM dismissed the application in her chamber.

The arrest of Kappan, a journalist with more than 10 years’ experience presently working with the news portal www.azhimukham.com, on October 5, while he was on duty to cover the Hathras gang rape and murder in Uttar Pradesh, has shocked the media fraternity across the country.

Also read: Journalists Criticise Gag Orders on Media Coverage of Sexual Assault Cases

In its petition before the Supreme Court, the KUWJ had brought out several violations of the Supreme Court’s guidelines in D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal, and various other judgments. The KUWJ alleged that the arrest was with a view to obstruct the discharge of duty in his capacity as a journalist. As his family members and his colleagues were not informed about his arrest and the place of his detention, the petition sought a writ in the nature of habeas corpus directing the Uttar Pradesh police to produce Kappan before the Supreme Court and release him from illegal detention.

However, as the Uttar Pradesh Police has subsequently charged Kappan under Sections 153-A, 295-A, 124-A of IPC, 17, and 14 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 65, 72 and 76 of Information Technology Act, the pending writ petition in the Supreme Court which raised the habeas corpus plea required amendment. For this purpose, the KUWJ office-bearers, along with their advocate, had to meet Kappan in person in jail, to consult him.

On October 12, the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian asked the petitioners to first approach the Allahabad high court seeking Kappan’s release. However, the bench kept KUWJ’s petition pending, directing its listing after four weeks. The bench also granted permission to amend the writ petition.

Also read: Are You Aware of Amended Definition of Rape, HC Asks UP Cop Who Denied Hathras Victim Was Raped

Mathews told The Wire, “Our application, along with the Supreme Court’s October 12 order and a copy of my Supreme Court identity card was self-explanatory. I personally appeared in CJM’s court on Friday. I was in Mathura jail and met officials there and on the basis of information received there, I returned to the CJM’s court and filed the application again and was there up to 6:30 pm.”

“If journalists are arrested for performing their duties, and lawyers are denied access to their clients, it is the end of democracy and rule of law. You cannot deny access to legal service to even a hardcore criminal,” he continued. “Meeting a client by his or her lawyer is the foundation of rule of law. Therefore, the CJM’s order is illegal, and against all constitutional values and morality. We could not get even vakalatnama, and a conference with client, to fulfil the requirements of Supreme Court’s order. The court even refused to give a copy of the order immediately.”

According to Mathews, disposing applications seeking permission to meet clients generally takes two or three seconds to a maximum of 30 seconds. But the Mathura CJM took more than five hours to dismiss the KUWJ’s application on Friday. Denial of access to a lawyer for meeting a client is a serious human right violation, he told The Wire.