A year after Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan was arrested, a copy of the chargesheet has not been given to him yet by the UP police, his lawyer has said.
Kappan and seven others were arrested on October 5, 2020 while they were on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to report on the gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl.
The eight have been charged with sedition 124(A) and conspiring to incite caste violence 153(A) and 295(A), besides being booked under the UAPA and the IT Act.
Besides Kappan, PFI members Atiqur Rahman, Masood Ahmed, Rauf Sharif, Ansad Badruddin, Firoz Khan, and driver Alam and his relative Mohammad Danish have been named in the 5,000-page charge sheet prepared by the Noida-wing of UP Special Task Force (STF).
The charge sheet against Kappan was submitted to the Mathura sessions court on April 3, 2021, six months after his arrest.
When the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) filed writ petitions in the Supreme Court saying that Kappan was missing, the UP police during hearing on April 27-28 told the court that he was in their custody and that copies of the charge sheet had been given to all the accused.
“It’s not true,” Wills Mathew, Kappan’s lawyer, told The Federal. “They have served the copy to one accused only, and that even after the date of their submission in the Supreme Court. Despite our repeated requests, we have not yet been served one.”
The copy served to one accused was also incomplete, with no related documents, he said.
On May 17, Mathew filed a petition before the additional sessions judge of Mathura for a copy of the charge sheet and documents, as entitled to any accused under section 207 of CrPC. He got no response.
He then approached the Allahabad High Court on June 3 where the petition is still pending.
On July 14, he made another attempt at the sessions court. Although the court did not take up the petition on record, it heard him orally and made an oral inquiry with the prosecution regarding the status. The public prosecutor informed the court that Kappan’s lawyer can collect the copy from the lawyer of another accused.
Mathew finally managed to get a copy of the chargesheet from the other accused’s lawyer but learnt that they were served the copy only on July 17. This is in contradiction to the statement given by the UP Police in the Supreme Court while hearing the writ petitions filed by KUWJ on April 28. The police had claimed then that they had served the copies of the charge sheet to all the accused.
Mathew was in for more shock as the chargesheet was incomplete.
“It was a shabby charge sheet. There was no list of relied on documents, electronic evidence and statements.
The copy of the chargesheet that he got doesn’t have any list of relied upon documents, statements, articles/items or electronic evidence.
There is not even proper indexing pagination, or memos of seizure/production or even clone of electronic devices. The CDR (Call Data Records) and the bank account statements are completely illegible.
“No legal work is possible based on this document,” Mathew said, adding that without getting a legitimate copy of the chargesheet on record, it would be impossible to initiate any proceedings.
“This is a gross violation of all the principles of law established by the Constitution,” he said.
“This is seriously prejudicing the rights of the accused, the procedure established by law and above all, affecting speedy trial and the dignity of the accused in jail,” says the petition filed by him in the sessions court on July 21.
Earlier on July 6, the court had dismissed Kappan’s bail plea.
Fundamental right to internet?
Besides this, there have been violations of the fundamental right to internet upheld by the Supreme Court.
On May 5, Kappan’s wife petitioned via email to the session’s court for an opportunity to meet him in jail.
On May 13, Kappan’s lawyer Mathew sought to preserve the CCTV footage in jail, besides the CCTV footage of KM Medical College of the days when Kappan was admitted there to make a case of inhuman treatment against him.
All these applications were filed via email due to the lockdown situation but neither the lawyer nor his family members received a single response from the court, says Mathew’s petition in Allahabad High Court.
The charge sheet against Kappan, which some media organisations got access to, says that ‘he did not write like a responsible journalist’ and his writings are ‘only and only reports to incite Muslims’.
The Indian Express reported that citing one article written by Kappan during the CAA protests in AMU, the charge sheet said “In the writing, the Muslims have been portrayed as victims (who) were beaten up by police and were asked to go to Pakistan. It is evident from the writing that it has been done to incite Muslims.”.
However, Kappan and his lawyers are yet to get a copy of the chargesheet, which they are entitled to, without which they have nothing on record to fight their case.