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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has granted bail to Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested in October 2020 and has been jailed for a month shy of two years while on his way to report from Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, where a Dalit teenager was gang-raped by ‘upper’ caste Thakur men and later died.
Asking several pointed questions which struck at Uttar Pradesh government’s claims of a ‘conspiracy’ by the journalist, Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit said in court on Friday, September 9, that the “Supreme Court will grant Kappan bail.”
“Every person has the right to free expression. He is trying to show that victim needs justice and raise a common voice. Is that a crime in eyes of law?” he asked, according to LiveLaw‘s tweets of the hearing.
The bench, also comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, said that Kappan will be taken to the trial court within three days and shall be released on bail on conditions which include the stipulation that he has to stay within the jurisdiction of Jangpura in New Delhi for the first six weeks. Kappan will also be required to record his presence at the local police station every Monday for that duration, after which he can go to Kerala, where too he will be required to report to the local police station every Monday.
Kappan is originally from Kerala. At the time of his arrest his workplace was Delhi.
His passport will have to deposited with the “investigative machinery,” the court dictated.
“The appellant shall not misuse the liberty and shall not get in touch with any of the person connected with the controversy,” the court pointed out.
As Kappan’s counsel Kapil Sibal noted in court, Kappan will also need to attend proceedings to secure bail under the PMLA case which has been slapped against him. “The conditions as stated above shall stand relaxed to the extent the appellant is required to avail of the relief of bail,” the apex court noted.
The Uttar Pradesh Police charged him under stringent laws, alleging that he was part of a conspiracy to ignite violence.
Kappan was booked under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (for promoting enmity between groups) and 295A (outraging religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 14 and 17 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Sections 65, 72 and 76 of the Information Technology Act.
In response to the Supreme Court’s latest notice it opposed his bail alleging that has “deep links” with the Popular Front of India, which is not a banned organisation.
These claims were repeated by senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, representing Uttar Pradesh, in court today. “On October 5, they had decided to go to Hathras to incite riots. He was funded with Rs 45,000 to create riots,” he said.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court had earlier rejected Kappan’s bail application, saying the journalist had “no work” in Hathras. Kappan had challenged this order at the Supreme Court.
The CJI asked several pointed questions to the opposing counsel in court today, in large part following up on the Uttar Pradesh police’s claims, according to LiveLaw‘s tweets from the hearing.
After ascertaining if Kappan had “done anything in furtherance of the literature” and being told by opposing counsel that Uttar Pradesh government has “statements of co-accused,” the CJI noted that “statements of co-accused” cannot be used as evidence.
The CJI also countered claims by Uttar Pradesh that the case was fit for trial soon by noting that if it was in the process of finding an approver over the above fact, then the case wasn’t going into trial.
“At best you can say this man was travelling in a car, and he was apprehended with three others, there was some literature in the car, the other three are linked with PFI?” CJI Lalit then said.
The CJI also further questioned the cops’ claim on literature found with Kappan having been dangerous.
Kappan’s time in jail was fraught with what his family and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists have repeatedly alleged were severe human rights impingements. In December 2020, it said Kappan had been “beaten thrice and subjected to mental torture during custody”.
His prolonged incarceration has attracted global condemnation and is often noted as a marker of India’s declining press freedom.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists, in a statement released after the bail order, noted that it will continue the legal fight till Kappan is “relieved of all false charges imposed on him.”
“The order is historic in the context of the continuing attacks against the freedom of press and independent journalism,” the KUWJ also noted.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) also issued a statement on September 9, welcoming the top court order on Kappan’s bail, saying, “The DUJ appreciates the efforts taken by the family, colleagues and friends of Kappan, the KUWJ and advocates including senior lawyer Kapil Sibal to ensure justice for Kappan.”
“The DUJ will continue to stand with Kappan in the legal fight against the false cases filed against him. The bail order it feels, is historic as it upholds and protects the freedom of expression in the face of multiple threats today,” it added.