Updated: February 16, 2021 1:11:46 am
CITING “HUMANITARIAN grounds”, the Supreme Court Monday allowed jailed journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested by UP Police in October, to visit his ailing mother in Kerala — but under strict “safeguards”, including a bar on speaking to the media.
Kappan is in jail in Mathura in a case linked to an alleged conspiracy to inflame religious enmity over the rape in Hathras of a Dalit girl and her death.
The order was issued by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde after Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), sought five days interim bail for Kappan to see his mother. The court said it is allowing the visit on humanitarian grounds.
Referring to the KUWJ’s plea that Kappan be allowed to visit his mother Kadija Kutty, who is around 90 years old, “in a critical condition” and “not likely to survive for long”, the bench said: “In these circumstances, we consider it appropriate to permit the prisoner…to visit his mother and return to the prison at the end of the 5th day after he is allowed to travel”.
However, the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, laid down a few conditions: the visit shall be “only for the purpose of seeing his ailing mother”; “he shall not give any interview to any media including the social media”; and, “he shall not meet the members of the public”.
Kappan, the court said, “will be entitled to meet his relatives and doctors and anybody else in connection with his mother’s health”. “He shall be escorted by the team of officers of the UP Police. The state police of Kerala shall cooperate with UP Police in the matter. It shall be the responsibility of the UP Police to ensure that the prisoner…travel to and from his mother’s house,” the bench directed.
It said that “police may guard the house from outside, but shall not go inside the house, when the prisoner…visits his mother”.
The conditions were imposed after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP government, said that Kappan “is likely to use this opportunity to have himself paraded in the public and gather support for his activities which are otherwise against the law”. The court said that “the interest of justice would be served, if appropriate safeguards are built into the order” for the visit.
The KUWJ — Kappan is a member — had moved the application for interim bail saying that during an earlier opportunity granted to see his “bed-ridden” mother through a video link, she “could not respond, or look at the screen of the mobile as she is presently very critical and in hospital”.
The plea added that the mother’s health “has further deteriorated” and that “whenever she gains consciousness, she is demanding to meet her son, and requesting everyone that it’s the last wish of a mother to see her son”. Sibal told the bench that doctors had opined that she may be alive only for the next two or three days.
Intervening, Mehta said the grounds are too “tempting” for him to agree and that he will file a reply to the plea by Tuesday. “What is tempting? A person wants to see his mother for the last time,” CJI Bobde responded.
The SG contended that there are posters coming up “as if he is some martyr”, and that money was being collected in his name. Mehta also said that during the video conference, the mother couldn’t recognise Kappan and that medical urgency is being projected. “This is unfair. We are speaking about the mother,” said the CJI.
Mehta argued that “there is no medical certificate to show his mother’s condition”. The SG also argued that Kappan is associated with Popular Front of India (PFI) which, he said, is trying to incite communal violence. “He has nothing to do with journalism,” he argued while saying that the daily Thejas, for which Kappan worked before it wound up in 2018, was the mouthpiece of PFI. When Kappan goes to Kerala, political opinions would be formed, he contended.
But the bench said it will take Sibal’s statement on face value and ensure that he is not paraded, has an armed guard and only stays home, does not give interviews and returns to jail. “We don’t think a man, whoever he may be, will lie about the condition of his mother,” remarked the CJI.
KUWJ had earlier filed a bail petition, which is pending before the court, contending that Kappan has more than 10 years of experience as a journalist and is working with a news portal.
It said that he was on his way to Hathras to report on the gangrape of the Dalit girl and her death when he was picked up in Mathura on October 5, 2020. UP Police sought to link Kappan to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and said he was also “found associated with” PFI.
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