Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan arrested in October 2020 while on his way to Hathras where a young Dalit woman had died after allegedly being gang-raped, has approached the Supreme Court seeking bail in the case.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had earlier in August rejected the bail application of Kappan, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the alleged Hathras conspiracy case.
The plea was mentioned for urgent listing before a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, which agreed to list it on August 26.
Advocate Haris Beeran mentioned the matter before the bench, also comprising Justices Hima Kohli and C T Ravikumar, and said the high court has denied bail to Kappan. “Presently, the petitioner has spent almost two years behind bars on the basis of trumped up charges, only because he sought to discharge his professional duty of reporting on the infamous case of the Hathras rape/ murder,” the plea said.
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“Therefore, the present petition raises seminal questions pertaining to the right to liberty, as well as the freedom of expression and speech vested in independent media under the aegis of the Constitution,” it said.
The plea claimed that the high court has failed to take note of the fact that the FIR or the charge sheet, “ex-facie” does not make out a case for the invocation of sections 17 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
While section 17 of the UAPA deals with punishment for raising funds for a terrorist act, section 18 pertains to punishment for conspiracy, etc.
“The conclusion of the high court to the effect that the petitioner had no work in Hathras is unfounded and baseless and reflects a total non-application of mind. The high court has glossed over the fact that the petitioner in the discharge of his duties has travelled extensively over the country for the purpose of reportage,” the plea claimed.
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Kappan was arrested in October 2020 while he was on his way to Hathras, home to the young Dalit woman who had died after being allegedly gang-raped. The FIR has been filed under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA against four persons having alleged links with the Popular Front of India (PFI).
PFI had been accused in the past of funding protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country. The police had earlier claimed that the accused were trying to disturb the law and order in Hathras.
The high court had dismissed his bail plea saying, “Considering the facts and circumstances of the case, nature of the offence, evidence on record, considering the complicity of the accused, the severity of punishment and the settled law propounded by the apex court at this stage, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, this court is not inclined to release the applicant on bail.”
Earlier, a Mathura court had rejected Kappan’s bail plea after which he had approached the high court.
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The rape victim died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after her alleged rape by four men from her village on September 14, 2020. She was cremated in the middle of the night in her village. Her family members had claimed that the cremation, which took place well past midnight, was without their consent and that they were not allowed to bring home the body one last time.
(With inputs from agencies)