Supreme Court grants bail to Kerala journo Siddique Kappan in Hathras conspiracy case [9.9.22]

Observing that every person has a right to free expression, the Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, who is in jail for almost two years after he was arrested while proceeding to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh where a Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped and later died.

"Till now you have not shown anything provocative," a bench headed by Chief Justice UU Lalit and also comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and P S Narasimha told the UP government.

The court also took note of the submissions of the UP government and laid down several conditions for bail, including that he will have to remain in Delhi for the next six weeks after release from a prison in Mathura and report to Nizamuddin police station in Delhi on Monday every week.

Kappan's wife Reaiheanath said she is very happy to hear the news of him getting bail and thanked everyone who supported the family.

"For the past two years, we have been physically, mentally and economically affected. But, now, the Supreme Court has given bail understanding the facts and circumstances. He is a mediaperson and not someone they accuse him of being. I strongly believe that. I stand by that and now it has been proved. I just want to thank everyone who supported us," Reaiheanath told reporters.

Opposition parties and journalist bodies also welcomed the Supreme Court order.

They claimed Kappan was made a "soft target" by the UP government and hoped he will also be granted bail in another case filed against him under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act(PMLA).

"A fresh wind is blowing across the Legal and Judicial system. A Sun that has set must rise again. There will be a new dawn," senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said in a tweet.

Chidambaram's party colleague Shashi Tharoor echoed the sentiment.

"Glad the Supreme Court has stood against indefinite detention at last," he tweeted.

The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) said the bail order was historic in the context of the continuing attacks against the freedom of press and independent journalism.

Kappan's lawyer Haris Beeran told reporters he would approach the trial court seeking bail in the case registered against the journalist by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The apex court also granted Kappan the liberty to avail the right to get bail in the money laundering case.

Kappan, the secretary of Delhi unit of KUWJ, and three other alleged Popular Front of India (PFI) activists were booked by the UP police on sedition and other charges in Mathura on October 5, 2020 while they were heading to a village in Hathras where a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped by four upper-caste men.

Every person has the right to free expression. He is trying to show that victims need justice and raise a common voice. Is that a crime in the eyes of law? CJI Lalit asked referring to widespread protests against the incident that had sparked massive outrage.

"Similar protests (in Nirbhaya case) were there in 2012 at India Gate, which led to a change of law. Till now you have not shown anything provocative," the bench said.

In its order, the apex court said Kappan shall be taken to the trial court within three days and released on bail on conditions as deemed fit by the trial court. It shall be the condition of bail that the appellant shall stay within the jurisdiction of Nizamuddin area here in Delhi. The trial court is in Mathura.

Elaborating further, the court said that after a period of six months he may travel to his native place Malappuram in Kerala and there also he will have to report to the local police station in similar fashion, that is every Monday, and mark his presence in the register kept on that behalf.

The appellant shall not leave the jurisdiction of Delhi without the express consent of the trial court, it said, adding, The appellant shall either in person or through lawyer shall attend the trial court on every single day. The appellant shall deposit his passport with the investigative machinery.

After perusing the records, the bench said it would refrain from dealing with the progress of investigation and the material collected by the probe agency as the case is at the stage of framing of charges.

The appellant shall not misuse the liberty and shall not get in touch with any of the persons connected with the controversy, the judges said and disposed of the bail plea.

At the outset, the bench inquired about the alleged incriminating evidence found against Kappan by the UP police.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the state government, claimed Kappan has links with the PFI, which is a banned organisation in Jharkhand, and there was evidence of him having met certain people belonging to the group with the motive of inciting riots in sensitive areas.

The senior lawyer also referred to the amount of Rs 45,000 allegedly received by Kappan from PFI for inciting riots as a little bit like what happened in Bombay in 1990."

He said some literature was also recovered to create propaganda and stir the feeling of Dalit community.

Opposing the bail plea, the state government counsel referred to the the recovery of a tool kit from the accused which also contained instructions about how to tackle tear gas.

So this appears to be somewhere from foreign country.., the bench said when Jethmalani submitted that it was in English.

Mr.Jethmalani, we will grant him bail. Which are the conditions you want to impose, the bench said before dictating the order.

The top court had on August 29 sought response from the UP government on the bail plea of Kappan after senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the journalist, highlighted he was in jail since October, 2020.

The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had earlier this month rejected the bail application of Kappan, who was also booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the alleged Hathras conspiracy case. A Mathura court had earlier junked Kappan's bail application.

The FIR was filed under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA against four people having alleged links with the PFI. The PFI had been accused in the past of funding protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the country.

The police had earlier claimed the accused were trying to disturb law and order in Hathras.

The Dalit woman had died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after the alleged gang-rape on September 14, 2020. She was cremated in the middle of the night in her village.

10 Sep 2022