Supreme Court Notice To UP Government Over Kerala Journalist's Arrest

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

Siddique Kappan is a contributor for a popular Kerala-based website. (File)

New Delhi:

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.

Mr Kappan was arrested on October 5 on his way to Uttar Pradesh's Hathras to report on the alleged gang rape of a 20-year-old woman who died of her injuries. The journalist was charged under the anti-terror law UAPA or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The Kerala Union of Working Journalists filed the petition under Article 32 seeking constitutional remedy for the violation of fundamental rights.

The petition seeks "fulfilment of basic rights" for Mr Kappan, including legal help and access to family. It also urges the Supreme Court to direct the Mathura District Judge or a High Court judge to enquire into the alleged human rights violations of prisoners inside the Mathura jail. 

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, sought bail for Mr Kappan saying lawyers went to meet him in jail and the magistrate but were denied audience. "The FIR does not name him (Siddique Kappan); no offences alleged. He is in jail since October 5," Mr Sibal said.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde, posting the next hearing to Friday, asked why the petitioners had approached it straightaway instead of going to the Allahabad High Court first.

"We are not on the merits of the case? Why can't you go to the High Court," asked Chief Justice SA Bobde.

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"We are trying to discourage Article 32 petitions. There is a spate of Article 32 petitions," said the bench that included Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

Article 32 of the constitution involves the power of the Supreme Court to provide relief if fundamental rights are violated.

Referring to past instances of the article's use, Mr Sibal replied: "Your lordships have interfered in (Article) 32. This is a journalist. There are exceptional circumstances."

The Chief Justice then said: "Alright. We will issue notice. But we might still send you to the High Court."

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.