Mangaluru Third Additional District and Sessions Court on October 21 acquitted a journalist and his father in a sedition case. Journalist Vittal Malekudiya and his father Linganna were arrested based on accusations of having links with naxals and after nine years of legal battle the court cleared them of all charges.
Vittal and his father were arrested on March 3, 2012. During the raid conducted by the Anti-Naxal Force on Vittal’s house in Kuthlur of Dakshina Kannada district, officials had found books of Bhagat Singh, Kuldip Nayyar, letters written by Vittal to boycott Lok Sabha bypoll, and mobile phones. They spent over three months in jail before they were released on bail.
Several organisations had staged a protest against the arrest. The then Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda had assured to withdraw the case but it did not happen. In the Congress government led by Siddaramaiah the charge sheet was filed against the duo under IPC sections 120 B, 124 A, and under sections 19 and 20 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The District and Sessions judge BB Jakati in his 23-page judgment said “Mr Malekudiya, being a journalism student wrote the letters because leaders had not fulfilled long-standing demands of the tribals of Kuthlur village. The prosecution had not produced any incriminating witness which shows that Malekudiya and his father had links with Maoist activities.”
Vittal, who is currently working in a leading Kannada newspaper, spoke with News9 and said that it was a conspiracy by the local police.
After 9 years you have been acquitted of charges accusing you of having links with naxals. What do you have to say?
It was an expected order. We are happy now and all our struggle has finally paid off. The court has acquitted us from all the charges pressed by the police.
What led to your arrest in 2012?
Well, we stay in a remote village named Kuthlur on the foothills of Kudremukh National Park. The then government had tried to evacuate residents of the village as it is in the national park. We resisted the attempt and protested against it. The police and the forest department used to harass us by stopping and questioning us frequently while travelling to our village. We were also demanding basic necessities like electricity to our village, which has not yet been provided. I was the only post-graduate from our village and I was helping villagers to raise their issues with authorities. This did not go down well with the officials and they raided my house and arrested me and my father accusing us of having links with naxals.
What were the challenges you faced during the legal battle?
I was studying for an MA in journalism from Mangalore University when I was arrested. My studies were affected due to my arrest. I had to write my exams wearing handcuffs. When we were in jail, my mother was alone at our house and there was no one to look after her. My father faced a lot of issues. Our village is in a remote area where there is no transportation service, he had to wake up at 5 am and walk for 12 kms and then catch a bus to reach the court. I am working in Bengaluru and had to frequently travel to Mangaluru to attend the court proceedings. It was a very tough time for me and my father.
Are you expecting any compensation from the government?
Yes, we faced a lot of problems for not doing anything wrong. The government must compensate us for all the difficulties we faced.
Speaking with News9, Vittal’s lawyer Dinesh Hegde Ulepady said he will be approaching the High Court claiming honorary acquittal.
“In the current order he has been merely acquitted. We are approaching the High Court claiming honorary acquittal. While applying for any employment, there will be a clause asking have there been any cases against you and if yes what is the status? Once they find out that he is involved in so and so cases he won’t find a job in the police department, civil services, or bank jobs. Once we get the honorary acquittal no authority will refer to his pending or disposed cases. We are also claiming compensation from the government. Who will return the 9 years that he lost out on? The government dishonoured him by arresting him, by putting him in jail, by filing the charge sheet and by compelling him to face the trial all these have to be rectified and restored with honour.”