On November 28 last year, Gauri Lankesh — who was shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday — was convicted in two separate cases of criminal defamation brought by two BJP leaders against the Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike, which she owned, published and edited. The court of Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC-II) V L Amar in the north Karnataka town of Hubbali sentenced her to six years’ imprisonment, and fined her Rs 10,000 in each case. She was given bail while she appealed in a higher court.
A reporter, Devanand Jagapur, who was also accused of criminal defamation under IPC Section 500 in one of the two cases, was acquitted after the complainants failed to prove his link to the article, and after Gauri Lankesh stated he was not associated with the paper.
The two cases against Gauri Lankesh were filed by the three-term BJP MP from Dharwad, Prahlad Joshi, and his personal secretary Umesh Dushi in connection with an article published on Page 6 of the Gauri Lankesh Patrike’s January 23, 2008 issue.
The article titled “Darodege Illida BJP galu (BJP men involved in criminal activities)” named three persons from Hubli — Shivnath Bhat, Venkatesh Mestri and Umesh Dushi — and alleged they were involved in cheating a businessman in the city. It also imputed Joshi’s involvement, and carried his picture.
Gauri Lankesh challenged the case and obtained a stay, but her plea was subsequently dismissed by Karnataka High Court, and the JMFC court was asked to conduct the trial. In October last year, she was arrested on the basis of a warrant issued by the court for not appearing before it, but was released on bail.
In her statement recorded under CrPC Section 313, Gauri Lankesh said the article was not intended to defame the MP. She also argued in court that Joshi’s reputation had not been damaged, since he had gone on to win the Dharwad seat in spite of its publication.
In its judgment, the court said: “…It is essential that the persons who is responsible for publication should take good care and caution before publishing the articles… which tends harm the reputation of a person. The editor and publisher are bound to take due care and caution before making libellous statement… The first duty of the law is to protect the personal reputation and to adequately punish those who falsely and maliciously attempted to destroy [it]… The persons reputation is a property and if possible more valuable than other property (sic).”