The prolonged trial helped Mohan Nayak, one of the 17 accused, to get bail from the High Court of Karnataka.
Kavitha Lankesh, the sister of slain journalist Gauri Lankesh, is preparing to challenge a High Court of Karnataka order granting bail to the 11th accused in the assassination case.
The Lankesh family firmly believes that none of the accused could be granted bail as the investigation agency had invoked the relevant sections of the Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act, 2000 (KCOCA). The Act was invoked after the investigators learnt that an organised syndicate had planned and executed the crime.
A single bench of Justice S Vishwajith Shetty granted Mohan Nayak N, the 11th accused, bail on 7 December, on a personal bond of ₹1 lakh and two sureties of similar amounts.
He was the first one to be granted bail in the case.
The charges against Nayak were that he had conspired with the other accused persons to murder Gauri Lankesh and in furtherance of such conspiracy, he had taken a house on rent at Tagachukuppe in Kumbalgodu, Ramanagara district.
The house was taken on the pretext of running an acupressure clinic, but was used for sheltering four other accused persons — Parashuram Waghmore (who shot at Gauri), and Amit Baddi, Ganesh Miskin, and Bharath Kurne, who provided the logistics, sources in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case told South First,
The house, belonging to Sardar aka Sardar Basha, was taken on rent in August 2017, specifically to harbour the executioners. The clinic was a cover, but the SIT sources said Nayak had offered acupressure services to a few customers.
Kavitha Lankesh and her lawyer are busy preparing to appeal against the bail order. She told South First that though the KCOCA against Nayak was dropped, he was a part of the organised crime syndicate and to establish his role in the case, the prosecution had recorded statements of 23 witnesses under Section 161 CrPC.
The witnesses included the owner of the house Sardar Basha, a woman who received acupuncture treatment from Nayak, a neighbour at Kumbalgodu, a man who arranged 10 SIM cards for the 11th accused and distributed them among the other accused persons, and a driver, who had driven Nayak to the clinic.
In his bail petition, Nayak submitted that he had been in custody for more than five years. The bail was granted citing the delay in conducting the trial.
“There are a total of 527 witnesses and only 90 witnesses have been examined to date. The chances of the trial being completed in the immediate near future are not there. The allegation against the petitioner is that he had conspired along with the other accused persons to murder Gauri Lankesh,” the court observed
“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. The confession statements of the accused persons have been recorded in violation of the requirement of KCOCA, and, therefore, the same is not admissible,” the order said.
Moreover, in the current petition, Nayak’s advocate argued that “out of 23 charge-sheet witnesses who have spoken about the role of the petitioner in the crime, only one witness has been examined before the trial court till date. The other 22 witnesses are yet to be examined”.
Nayak was arrested on 18 July, 2018, and has since been in judicial custody. He has been charged under Sections 302, 120B, 118, 203, read with 35 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Sections 25(1) & 27(1) of the Indian Arms Act, 1959, and Sections 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) & 3(4) of the KCOCA.
On 14 August, 2018, approval was granted for invoking the provisions of KCOCA against the accused persons in the murder case. The KCOCA, which received the approval of the President on 22 December, 2001, was enacted to make special provisions for the prevention and control of, and for coping with, criminal activity by organised crime syndicates or gangs.
However, in September 2022, the Supreme Court overturned a Karnataka High Court order quashing charges under the KCOCA against Nayak in the murder case.
Ever since his arrest, Nayak had been filing bail petitions. The special court dismissed his plea on 25 October, 2018. He later appealed to the high court, which, too, was dismissed by a coordinate bench on 11 February, 2019.
Subsequently, the petitioner filed an application seeking statutory bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC and the special court turned it down on 7 February, 2019. Nayak then approached the high court again and a coordinate bench of the court dismissed the appeal on 13 July, 2021.
Subsequently, he went to the special court and cited the inordinate delay in the completion of the trial and sought bail, which was denied on 6 July, 2023. Nayak’s counsel once again petitioned the high court for bail and this time, the court granted him bail.
Gauri was murdered outside her Rajarajeshwarinagar residence in Bengaluru on 5 September, 2017, by two bike-borne men.
The police arrested 17 people in connection with the case and also claimed that Gauri’s murder was connected to the murder of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi and those of rationalists and rights activists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar in Maharashtra.
Besides the sureties, Nayak has been told to appear before the trial court on all dates of until the court exempts him from attending.
He has been asked not to directly or indirectly threaten or tamper with the prosecution witnesses. He should not be involved in similar offences in the future. He should not leave the jurisdiction of the trial court without its permission.