New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said that media reports about the court’s earlier order in connection with the detention of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan were “unfair”.
“There was very unfair reporting about our earlier order. It was said that we denied you relief,” Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde said, according to a report in Bar and Bench.
In response, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, the Kerala Union for Working Journalists, said that he had “nothing to do with it” and that “unfair reporting happens everyday”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, agreed with the CJI and said, “Yes, there was inaccurate reporting. Such reports need to be clarified.”
The bench allowed Sibal to meet Kappan after SG Mehta told the court there was no objection to Kappan meeting his lawyers, according to Indian Express. The SG echoed the Uttar Pradesh government’s claim that Kappan had never asked to meet his lawyers and denied claims that he was being denied permission to meet his counsel.
On November 16, during a previous hearing of the case, the Supreme Court had sought the response of the Uttar Pradesh government and remarked that it had been dissuading people from approaching the apex court with Article 32 petitions, which refer to a redressal mechanism in instances where the fundamental rights have been violated.
“We are trying to discourage Article 32 petitions. There is a spate of Article 32 petitions,” the bench had said to which Sibal had responded by saying that these were “exceptional circumstances”. “Your lordships have interfered in (Article) 32. This is a journalist. There are exceptional circumstances,” Sibal said.
Among those who have successfully pressed an Article 32 petition in the apex court is the Republic TV owner-editor Arnab Goswami, who sought the quashing of various FIRs filed against him in May.
Additionally, the bench headed by CJI Bobde had also asked Sibal why he hadn’t approached the Allahabad high court instead of moving the Supreme Court. Sibal said that Kappan was not being allowed to meet even his lawyers after which the court had sought UP government’s response. Solicitor General Mehta then informed the court that there was no objection to Kappan meeting his lawyers.
Kappan was finally able to have a brief conversation with his lawyer over the phone on November 18, 43 days after his arrest.
In the counter affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the UP government has claimed that Kappan was the office secretary of the banned organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) and was “using a journalist cover by showing identity card of a Kerala based newspaper named as ‘Tejas’ which was closed in 2018,” according to Live Law.
Further, the affidavit alleged that Kappan and other PFI activists and their student wing 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”.
“Mobile phones, laptop, pamphlets having headlines of ‘Justice for Hathras Victim’ etc. were duly seized and information of such arrest was duly conveyed to the relatives,” it further stated.
Kappan, a freelance journalist who wrote for Malayalam-language news organisations, was arrested by the police in Uttar Pradesh on October 5 in Mathura under provisions of the UAPA and sedition for alleged criminal conspiracy to create societal unrest.
Kappan was going to Hathras to cover the death of the 19-year-old woman who had been allegedly gang-raped by four Thakur men.
A local court in Mathura remanded Kappan and three others arrested with him to judicial custody after which the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court challenging Kappan’s custody. In its petition, the KUWJ has claimed that Kappan’s arrest was in violation of the Supreme Court’s guidelines in D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal and argued for equal access for journalists covering the Hathras incident.
On October 12, a Supreme Court bench 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 apex court had also asked the petitioner to file an amended petition.