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Karnataka: HC Grants Bail to Gauri Lankesh Murder Accused, Cites Trial Delay

Order comes soon after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah ordered setting up of a special court to speed up trials in the murder cases of Lankesh and writer Kalburgi.
Gauri Lankesh assassination: 6 years down, no closure for family and friends, justice elusive

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New Delhi: Close on the heels of Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah asking officials to set up a special court to fast-track the trial of the murder cases of journalist Gauri Lankesh and writer MM Kalburgi, the Karnataka High Court has granted bail to one of the accused in the case.

On Friday, Mohan Nayak N, the 11th accused in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, was granted bail by the High Court of Karnataka.

Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in her home in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 by alleged Right-wing group members. Around 18 people were arrested in the case, but the trial was going on at a slow pace.

The allegation against Nayak was that "he had conspired with the other accused persons to commit the murder of deceased Gauri Lankesh and in furtherance of such conspiracy, he had taken a house for rent at Ramanagara in an isolated place and had given shelter in the said house to accused number 2 & 3 who are the actual assailants in the present case." He is the first accused in the case to obtain bail, which was granted by the single judge bench of Justice S Vishwajith Shetty.

One of the grounds on which Nayak was granted bail was the delay in the trial.

"In the present case, out of 527 charge sheet witnesses, only 90 witnesses have been examined. This Court on 11.02.2019 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 mentioned 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," the HC said in its judgement.

Nayak has been in custody since July 18, 2018.

Considering the delay, the HC said, "Petitioner has been in custody for the last more than five years. Though Section 22(4) of COCA provides for certain rigors for enlarging the accused on bail as against whom charges are made for the offences punishable under the COCA, the same cannot fetter the powers of this Court to enlarge the accused on bail when there is undue delay in trial and the material on record would go to show that the trial may not be completed any time soon." "From a perusal of the order sheet maintained by the Trial Court in Spl.CC.No.872/2018, it is seen that delay in trial cannot be attributed to the accused," it said granting him bail.

Nayak is charged under under Sections 302, 120B, 118, 203, 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 Karnataka Control of Organized Crimes Act, 2000 (COCA).

His earlier bail plea before the HC was rejected.

In the current petition, Nayak's advocate had 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." Gauri was murdered outside her residence in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017 by bike-borne men. The police arrested a total of 17 men in connection with the case and claimed that Gauri's murder was connected to the murder of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and those of Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar in Maharashtra.

Nayak was released on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties for similar amounts.

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