The Karnataka High Court recently granted bail to an accused in the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh who was shot dead in 2017.
“From a perusal of the statements recorded under Section 161 Cr.PC of the 23 charge sheet witnesses who have spoken about the role of the petitioner in the present case, it is seen that none of these witnesses have stated that the petitioner was a part of the meeting of the accused persons, wherein the accused had conspired to murder Gouri Lankesh. Most of the aforesaid charge 26 sheet witnesses have only spoken about the petitioner taking a house on rent at Kumbalagodu in the outskirts of Bengaluru”, Justice S Vishwajith Shetty stated, while granting bail to Mohan Nayak.
Interestingly, this is the first time that bail has been granted to an accused in connection with the murder of Lankesh by two assailants outside her home in Bengaluru.
The petitioner had filed bail application before the Special Court, which was dismissed on October 25, 2018. Then, he had approached this Court which was also dismissed in 2019. Subsequently, the petitioner filed an application seeking statutory bail under Section 167(2) of Code of Criminal Procedure and the Special Court dismissed it on 2019. Even after this, several attempts were made by the petitioner to secure bail.
What were the arguments made before the Karnataka High Court?
Before the Court, the petitioner argued that he had been in custody for more than five years. There are a total of 527 charge sheet witnesses and only 90 witnesses have been examined till date. The chances of trial being completed in the immediate near future is not there. The allegation against the petitioner is that he had conspired along with the other accused persons to commit the murder of Gouri Lankesh. The material on record would go to show that the petitioner was not a party to the alleged conspiracy to commit the murder and in the meetings which were held by the other accused persons, in furtherance of such conspiracy, the petitioner was not present.
It was further submitted that the confession statement of the accused persons has been recorded in violation of the requirement of Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act, 2000, and so, the same is not admissible.
Rejecting these submissions, the Special Public Prosecutor for the Respondent seriously opposed the petition. He submitted that the earlier bail petition filed by the petitioner has been already dismissed by the Court. Also, there is no change in the circumstances or in law, and therefore, the petitioner cannot argue the case on merits afresh. The voluntary statement of the petitioner and the other accused persons were recorded prior to invoking the provisions of COCA, and therefore, there is no merit in the petitioner’s contention, it was argued.
After considering these submissions, the Court noted that 527 charge sheet witnesses, only 90 witnesses have been examined. In 2019, the High Court had directed the Trial Court to expedite the trial.
“Though charges were framed in the present case on 30.10.2021, for the last more than two years, only 90 witnesses have been examined. There are more than 400 charge sheet witnesses who are yet to be examined in the case. Even if it is assumed that all the witnesses who are cited in the charge sheet may not be examined in the case, considering the fact that only 90 witnesses have been examined for the last more than two years, it can be safely presumed that any time soon, the trial of the case may not be completed”.
Further, the Court noted that though the petitioner is alleged to be a member of the syndicate committing organized crime, the material on record shows that he is not arrayed as co- accused in any of the cases registered against the other accused persons as well.
The Court also highlighted that the petitioner’s confession statement was recorded prior to sanction being accorded for invoking the provisions of COCA against the accused persons. “Section 19 of the COCA may therefore not be applicable to the confessions made by the accused persons. Even otherwise, the requirements of Section 19 have not been complied in the present case”.
So, these grounds, the Court proceeded to grant bail to the petitioner with certain conditions.