The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday refused to grant bail to journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested along with three others in October 2020 while on his way to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh to report on the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl [Sidhique Kappan v State Of UP].
Justice Krishan Pahal attributed the rejection of his bail plea to a prima facie case being established by the prosecution that his travel with co-accused who did not belong to the media fraternity, as well as tainted money being used by him and his colleagues, were crucial circumstances going against him. The order stated,
"The State machinery was at tenterhooks owing to the tension prevailing due to various types of information being viral across all forums of media including the internet. The said sojourn of the applicant with co-accused persons who do not belong to media fraternity is a crucial circumstance going against him."
The Court also reasoned that Kappan's defence that he was visiting Hathras to fulfil his journalistic duty was nullified by the claims made by the prosecution in the charge sheet.
"The tainted money being used by the applicant and his colleagues cannot be ruled out," said the single-judge.
The prosecution's allegations were that Kappan and the co-accused were travelling to Hathras with an intention to disturb harmony in the area. It was stated that they were collecting funds to run a website full of misinformation and to incite violence.
They were charged under Sections 17 and 18 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and Section 124A (sedition), Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion) and Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code, along with Sections 65, 72 and 75 of the Information Technology Act.
However, Kappan's counsel denied all allegations, stating that he was going to Hathras to discharge his duty as a professional journalist, when he was illegally detained by the Uttar Pradesh Police in violation of his fundamental rights. Additionally, it was stated that he never used any platform to spread disharmony or further class or communal conflict.
It was categorically submitted that he was an honest and law-abiding journalist, and had not received any foreign funds. The money transferred to his account was his hard-earned money and had nothing to do with any offence whatsoever, Kappan's counsel stressed.
It was also brought to the Court's attention that while Kappan had written several journalistic reports on the plight of Dalits and minorities, none of them promoted any sort of rivalry between communities.
On the contrary, the State argued that Kappan was a resident of Kerala, had nothing to do with the Hathras incident and was there with mala fide intent. It was submitted that his plan was to spread social disharmony and incite a class war.
It was also argued that he conducted a secret workshop with others with with the aim to incite riots across the country, by raking up issues of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Babri Masjid demolition.
The State informed the Court that no proper cause was shown by Kappan in relation to his presence near Hathras, at a time when the State was going through social unrest on account of the gang-rape and subsequent burning of the Dalit victim's body. In fact, it was stated that he used journalism as a cover to fulfil his ulterior motives.
The State, however, did not press arguments pertaining to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to the offence of Sedition, owing to the Supreme Court's order keeping the provision in abeyance.
While coming to its decision, the Court referred to the Supreme Court's verdict in National Investigation Agency v. Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, in which it was held that Section 43(D)(5) of the UAPA prohibits a court from granting bail to an accused if it is of the opinion that that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accusations against such person are prima facie true.
This apart, owing to the nature of the offence, the evidence on record, and considering the complicity of the accused and the severity of the punishment, the Court found Kappan's bail application to be devoid of merit, and dismissed it.
The order reads,
"The legislature has framed the U.A.P. Act to control such instances. The Courts interpret the laws enacted by the legislature which becomes functus officio after the framing of the statute."
Kappan was represented by Senior Advocate IB Singh and Advocates Ishan Baghel and Avinash Singh Vishen, while the State was represented by Additional Advocate General Vinod Kumar Shahi and Advocate Shivnath Tilahari.