The Chief Justice S.A. Bobde on Monday, during the hearing of a plea filed for release of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, said the court is trying to discourage petitions filed under Article 32.
Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan was travelling to Hathras to cover the situation following the alleged gang rape and death of a 20-year-old Dalit woman.
On October 5, 2020, Siddique Kappan, two Campus Front of India members and their driver were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police for promoting enmity between different religious groups and were booked under sedition laws, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act.
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) November 16, 2020
The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government seeking its response on a petition seeking bail and challenging the arrest of Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), submitted Kappan has been in Jail since October 5 and the FIR does not even mention his name. Sibal emphasised that lawyers have not been able to meet Kappan and it is essential to meet him to understand the matter.
A bench headed by Chief Justice and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian asked Sibal, “why did you not approach the High Court?” As Sibal began to argue on merits of the case against Kappan, the Chief Justice told him that the court is not hearing the matter on merits. “We are trying to discourage Article 32 petitions”, added Chief Justice. Sibal replied that the court had interfered under Article 32.
The Chief Justice replied, “There is a spate of Article 32 petitions.” Sibal argued that a journalist has been in jail and these are exceptional circumstances. The Chief Justice pointed out to Sibal that he has not filed the amended petition yet. Sibal replied, “We could not meet the gentleman. How can we amend (the petition)? We have filed an affidavit to this effect”
After a brief hearing in the matter, the top court issued notice and fixed the matter for further hearing on Friday this week. The KUWJ had filed a habeas corpus petition seeking immediate release of Kappan and cited violation Articles 14, 19 and 21. The plea claimed that on October 5, Kappan was arrested at Toll Plaza near Hathras. He was on the way to report on the alleged rape and death of a 19-year-old girl in Hathras. The plea filed through advocate Wills Mathews termed the arrest as illegal and unconstitutional. The journalist has been charged under the anti-terror law UAPA or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Article 32, allows citizens to move the Supreme Court to enforcement their rights.
Though, the notice was issued in this matter, but another plea filed under Article 32 did not meet the same fate. The top court today declined to entertain an Article 32 petition filed on behalf of Nagpur resident Sameet Thakkar, who had moved the court seeking consolidation of three FIRs registered against him for his posts. Thakkar, was arrested for making objectionable comments against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his minister-son Aditya Thackeray on social media.
The Chief Justice told Thakkar’s counsel senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, “Why are you coming here under Article 32 directly?….you please go to the High Court.” Jethmalani submitted before the top court that offences in FIRs were bailable, yet Thakkar was arrested. He insisted that Thakkar was being treated inhumanely.
The Chief Justice reiterated that the top court would not be entertaining an Article 32 petition and Jethmalani should approach the High Court. “High Court can also uphold your fundamental rights. High Court can also protect you”, observed the bench. Jethmalani withdrew the petition.
Three different FIRs were registered against Thakkar for the same set of tweets. He has been arrested three times in the last three weeks. The Maharashtra government today told the Supreme Court that it will not oppose in a lower court the bail plea of Thakkar.
According to Mr Kappan’s lawyer, the journalist has not been allowed to meet his family or him, even to get a signature on the “vakalatnama” – an authorisation necessary to act in defendant’s favour – since his arrest.
Earlier as well, the Supreme Court had asked the Kerala journalist to first approach the Allahabad High Court for bail, saying he could return if the High Court did not grant relief.