Gauri Lankesh

A bail plea by a key accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh has been rejected by the Karnataka High Court despite an order for dropping stringent charges under the Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000, issued by a single judge of the HC in April.

The accused, Mohan Nayak, 50, who allegedly provided logistical support to a right wing ‘crime syndicate’ in carrying out the killing and was an integral part of the syndicate, had sought bail on several counts, including an April 22 HC order for dropping of KCOCA charges and alleged delay in filing of a chargesheet by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to investigate the case.

A single judge bench of justice Sreenivas Harish Kumar has ruled that Nayak, who is accused number 11 in the murder case, cannot seek bail on the grounds that the SIT filed a chargesheet against him only on November 23, 2018 – more than 90 days following his arrest on July 19, 2018 – since the bail application was moved only after the chargesheet was filed.

The HC had said in a July 13 order that despite another bench of the court ordering the dropping of KCOCA charges — where the deadline for filing a chargesheet is 180 days — through its order on April 22, Nayak cannot avail bail since the bail application on the grounds of delay in filing a chargesheet was moved only on November 28, 2018, after the SIT had filed its chargesheet.

The “counsel has argued that the appellant would be entitled to claim bail under section 167 (2) of Cr.P.C, as according to him the chargesheet had not been filed within 90 days from 19.07.2018, i.e date of his remand to custody. Of course this argument is possible, but it may be noted that the appellant did not file the application soon after expiry of 90 days, he filed on 28.11.2018,” the HC said.

The April 22 order for dropping of KCOCA charges against Nayak has been a source of controversy in Karnataka with the BJP government dallying on filing an appeal in the Supreme Court.

With the state undecided about filing a plea, Lankesh’s sister, Kavitha Lankesh, had moved the top court last month. On June 29, the SC issued notices to the state and the SIT in the matter and said that the bail application filed by Nayak in the HC must be “decided without being influenced by the impugned order” in the KCOCA matter.

Since the April 22 order, as many as five other accused in the murder case have moved court seeking withdrawal of the KCOCA charges against them.

Journalist Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken critic of right wing Hindutva, was shot dead outside her home in west Bengaluru on the night of September 5, 2017 by two motorcycle borne assassins.

The Karnataka police SIT formed to investigate the case has arrested and charged 17 people linked to extremist right wing Hindutva groups, who allegedly created a syndicate to carry out killings and attacks on critics — primarily in Karnataka and Maharashtra — between 2013-2018.

“The members of this organization targeted persons who they identified to be inimical to their belief and ideology. The members strictly followed the guidelines and principles mentioned in “Kshatra Dharma Sadhana”, a book published by Sanatan Sanstha,” the SIT said after it filed a chargesheet against the accused in the case on November 23, 2018.

Nayak, 50, an alternative medicine practitioner from Dakshina Kannada is accused of being a key conspirator who rented a house a few kilometres away from Lankesh’s home allegedly under the prestext of starting an acupuncture clinic. Instead, according to the SIT, he used the facility as a shelter for the hitmen involved in killing Lankesh.

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