Bishop Franco Mulakkal’s legal team used a 2018 television interview by journalist Abhilash Mohanan to discredit key witness Sister Anupama’s statement.

Sr Anupama and Abhilash Mohanan collage of the interviewReporter TV screengrab
news Sexual Assault Friday, January 14, 2022 - 18:21

Many, including the investigation team, are puzzled as to what made the Kerala court acquit Bishop Franco Mulakkal of rape and other charges against him filed by a nun from Kottayam’s Missionaries of Jesus convent. As they await the copy of the judgment, crucial information pertaining to the trial is now being widely discussed. During the trial, Franco’s legal counsel extracted one phrase from an old television interview with Sister Anupama, a nun who has been supporting the survivor, to argue that the witness statements are not credible.

The television interview in question was by Reporter TV journalist Abhilash Mohanan in September 2018, as part of the channel’s Close Encounter series, when five nuns were protesting at the Vanchi Square in Ernakulam, demanding Franco Mulakkal’s arrest. The defence produced this interview in court, placing emphasis on one phrase that Sister Anupama, a key witness in the case, said in the interview — “We got to know details about the incident after the police complaint.”

Soon after the verdict in the case came, one of the lawyers who represented Franco told the media that Abhilash's interview was a turning point in the case.

The prosecution has, however, staunchly denied this and told TNM that Sister Anupama merely meant that they knew full details of the rape only after the police complaint was filed. “The survivor, in utmost secrecy, had revealed her trauma to the other sisters. All that Sister Anupama meant is that she knew the intricate details of the crime after the police complaint,” advocate John Ralph, who assisted the prosecutor, told TNM.

"The survivor told Sister Regina (Superior General of Missionaries of Jesus congregation) everything, that the problems were because she didn't sleep with him. She told us, too, that the problems were because she refused to sleep with him (Franco). But we understood the gravity and specifics of the crime only after the police complaint,” Sister Anupama had told Abhilash in the interview. 

Sister Anupama is referring to the incident where Bishop Franco had filed two cases against the survivor and her family, even before she made a formal complaint to the Church in June 2017. The survivor had informed Sr Regina that it was because she refused to sleep with him that she was facing such problems.  

“Any person with common sense would understand what “refusing to sleep with him” means and that something must have happened. Sister Regina should have interpreted that and acted accordingly,” she added, referring to the instance when the survivor orally complained to the convent about the alleged crime. “Sr Regina instead accused the survivor, and that is what she has been doing even now,” Sr Anupama said in 2018.

Reacting to the defence lawyer’s statement that his interview nailed the case for them, Abhilash told News 18 Malayalam, “I was called as a witness in the case. They asked me whether the interview video was altered or fabricated in any manner. I replied that apart from the usual editing, nothing in that video interview was added or omitted.”

However, Abhilash told News18, “I don’t know how it (his statement) was used by the defence. I’m waiting for the judgment copy.”

Abhilash also added that Sister Anupama had denied saying certain things in the interview.

Clarifying this, Ralph told TNM, “She never denied anything in the interview. When Franco’s lawyer Raman Pillai asked pointed questions and quoted lines from the interview, she said she could not remember, after all it happened a few years ago. That’s all.”

A source who followed the trial told TNM that when advocate Raman Pillai was cross-questioning Sr Anupama, he asked her pinpointed questions. Sr Anupama failed to recall some specific references she made in the 2018 interview. In an attempt to discredit her as a reliable witness, Pillai called Abhilash Mohanan to the witness box.

According to the prosecution team, the line of questioning by the defence was hostile, so much so that Sr Anupama broke down during the cross-examination.

“How is this relevant? Even if the defence could prove that Anupama did not know about the rape, that is not what the case is about. The case is whether the nun was raped, not whether she told others,” advocate Ralph pointed out.

Watch the full interview: What Sr Anupama told the journalist

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