The Uttar Pradesh government was directed by the Supreme Court on Wednesday (April 28, 2021) to move Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan to a Delhi hospital for better medical care. Kappan is reportedly being held in a Mathura prison on charges of sedition and provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
"We direct that Siddique Kappan be shifted to RML Hospital, or AIIMS or any other govt hospital in Delhi. After recovery, he can be sent back to Mathura Jail," the Court ordered.
Kappan may then seek bail from a lower court, according to the Court. The Court dismissed the plea, clarifying that if Kappan's wellbeing is certified, he may be returned to the Mathura prison. A bench consisting of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna issued the order.
The court was hearing an application filed by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) requesting that Kappan be transferred from UP hospital to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi due to a medical emergency. Kappan had fallen in a bathroom at the Mathura jail, according to KUWJ, and later tested positive for COVID-19.
"He is presently hospitalized in KM Medical College, Mathura. It is reliably believed that, more than 50 inmates of Mathura Jail are suffering from COVID, with various of scarcities, and even drinking water from toilet, seriously affecting hygiene, health, all leading to a major disaster in the making. In short, as on today , the life of Mr. Sidhique Kappan is in danger for all reasons," the plea said.
Kappan's wife, Raihanth Kappan, wrote to the Chief Justice of India- NV Ramana separately, stating that the scribe is "chained like an animal" to a hospital bed in Mathura and pleaded before the Court to interfere and discharge him from the hospital until his application for release from jail is determined.
Kappan, a reporter for the Malayalam news website Azhimukham and the Delhi unit secretary of the KUWJ, was arrested in Uttar Pradesh in October with three others while on his way to Hathras to report on the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl.
They were later arrested and charged with sedition under the terms of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). A journalistic organisation, KUWJ, then filed a Habeas Corpus petition with the Supreme Court, requesting Kappan's release.
KUWJ's most recent filing came in the form of a Habeas Corpus appeal. The process for arresting Kappan, according to KUWJ's lawyer Wills Mathews, was unconstitutional in and of itself. "Invoking Section 167 before sub-divisional magistrate was wrong as he does not have the power to look into it. That is the first illegality," he submitted. Mathews went on to say that newspaper reports were the basis for the FIR.
"There is nothing concrete in the FIR. Contents of the FIR will not itself make out an offense," he said.
The judge inquired whether Mathews was demanding bail or medical assistance. Medical treatment, according to Mathews, is a top priority.
"First priority is medical treatment, followed by bail for which we have made an application," he said while adding, "From source we have come to know that he is still critical. He is still under medical supervision. Just for bringing it on record he was forcefully discharged from hospital."
The Uttar Pradesh government's Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta argued that since the accused is in judicial custody, the Habeas Corpus petition is not maintainable. Kappan, according to Mehta, was carrying an identification card from Thejas newspaper, a Malayalam daily that was shut down three years ago.
"Thejas is a mouthpiece of Popular Front of India. It had links with SIMI which is a banned organisation. Thejas is so extreme in his views that he has created religious discord in Kerala. It even Osama Bin Laden was called a martyr when Kappan was an active contributor," Mehta said.
"PFI is known to have been in touch with members ISIS and faces case in Kerala and otherstates. Kappan is in touch with many of these people," he further contended
Kappan, according to Mehta, was attempting to incite caste and communal strife in the state. Mehta also said that suspicious activities involving Kappan's bank account had been discovered. Justice Kant inquired as to whether the transactions totaled thousands or lakhs of bucks.
"There are two type of projections. The petitioner says he is a small time reporter for a web magazine earning Rs. 25,000. This is the level of a small journalist as in every where. But the other projection is that he is in direct links with PFI and is a direct beneficiary of cash transactions," Justice Kant said.
"All foot soldiers may not get the money directly from the organisation. You are not looking at a bail application. This is a writ of Habeas Corpus," Mehta responded while adding, "A writ of habeas corpus lies only when there is illegal detention. This court has held that when magistrate remands him to custody then it becomes official custody and no habeas corpus can lie. all of them have been represented by lawyers in trial courts."
“The Court eventually said that even if Habeas Corpus cannot be considered, it will consider the plea for better medical treatment. CJI Ramana further said that the case has been pending for long. For the time being lets ignore the tag of the organisation. life of the accused is at stake," Justice Kant said.
The Court, on the other hand, stated that it would rule on the matter on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 and that it had agreed to send Kappan to Delhi for medical attention.