A senior Kannada journalist, Gauri Lankesh, has been sentenced to six months imprisonment by a magistrate’s court in the north Karnataka town of Hubbali in two separate cases of criminal defamation brought by two BJP leaders against the Kannada tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike. The paper is published, edited and owned by Lankesh. The court of the Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC-II) V L Amar convicted Gauri Lankesh in two separate judgments pronounced on November 28 in Hubbali and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 each in both cases. The JMFC court, however, also granted the journalist bail to file a plea in a higher court.
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A reporter, Devanand Jagapur, who was also accused of criminal defamation under IPC Section 500 in one of the two cases, was acquitted by the court after the complainants failed to prove he was associated with the article in Gauri Lankesh Patrike and after Lankesh stated during the trial that Jagapur was not associated with the paper. The two cases were filed by the three-term BJP MP from Dharwad, Prahlad Joshi, and a party associate, Umesh Dushi, in connection with an article published on January 23, 2008, alleging that some BJP leaders in the region were involved in a cheating case.
The article titled “Darodege Illida BJPgalu” (BJP men involved in criminal activities) named three persons from Hubbali — Shivnath Bhat, Venkatesh Mestri and Prahlad Joshi’s personal secretary Umesh Dushi — and accused them of being involved in cheating a businessman. The article imputed the involvement of BJP MP Prahlad Joshi as well and carried his picture.
After the case was filed, Lankesh attempted to get a stay, but her plea was dismissed by the Karnataka High Court. The JMFC court was asked to conduct a trial. In October, Lankesh was arrested and released on bail. During the recording of her statement, Lankesh admitted publishing the article in question, but stated that it was not intended to defame the dignity of the BJP MP. Lankesh argued that the article had not damaged Joshi’s reputation since he went on to win the Lok Sabha seat.
In his final judgment on Monday, Judge Amar ruled that the BJP leaders had made out a case of defamation against Lankesh. “The press has a great power in impressing the minds of people and it is essential that the person who is responsible for publication should take good care and caution before publishing the articles in newspaper which tends to harm the reputation of a person. The editor and publisher are bound to take due care and caution before making libellous statement,’’ said the court.
“The first duty of the law is to protect the personal reputation and to adequately punish those who falsely and maliciously attempted to destroy the reputation without legal justification. The person’s reputation is a property and if possible more valuable than other property,’’ the court ruled.
It further observed: “The complainant placed corroborative evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. On reading the article published in Lankesh Patrike it is per se defamatory and the language used…is defamatory and it lowered the dignity and reputation of complainant.’’
Reacting to the verdict, Lankesh said: “The court verdict is a temporary setback for me. I will challenge it.”