Journalist acquitted of naxal charges, court says having Bhagat Singh's book not illegal

Vittala Malekudiya and his father, who hail from a tribal community, were arrested in 2012 on charges of criminal conspiracy, sedition and terrorism.
Vittala Malekudiya
Vittala Malekudiya
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A man and his father from a tribal community from a remote area in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, who were arrested nine years ago by the anti-naxal unit of the Karnataka Police, were acquitted by the district court on Thursday, October 21 after the police failed to show any links with him to Naxalites. Vittala Malekudiya was a 23-year-old journalism student when he was arrested by the police. After being in jail for four months, Vittala was granted bail in 2012. However, the Karnataka police later submitted a chargesheet in the case. Vittala, now 32, works with a leading Kannada daily. 

Acquitting Vittala and his father, Lingappa Malekudiya (60), the court stated that the articles seized by the police during the investigation did not prove that the duo was part of a Naxal group. The materials seized by the police included a book on Bhagat Singh seized from Vittala's hostel room, a letter seeking the boycott of the Lok Sabha bye-elections in 2012 until his village gets basic amenities, and clippings of newspaper articles. The court also pointed out that a police officer stated that most of the articles seized in the case were required for the daily livelihood. "Possessing the books of Bhagat Singh is not barred under the law...reading of such newspapers is not barred under the law...mere possession of paper cuttings of newspaper does not amount to an offence," read the judgement. 

Vittala and his father live in Kuthloor village in Dakshina Kannada bordering the Kudremukh National Park. They had been arrested based on charges of criminal conspiracy and sedition under the Indian Penal Code and on charges of terrorism under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). 

Discussing the letter found in Vittala's hostel room, the court said, "It appears that the accused number 6 (Vittala), being the student of journalism, wrote such a letter to boycott the bye-election of Lok Sabha because the leaders have not fulfilled long standing demands of the tribal people of Kuthloor village. On reading it can be easily stated that such letters contain demands of local people.”

The judgement also stated that as many as ten people from the village, who were among the 23 prosecution witnesses in the case, denied the alleged acts of Vittalaa and his father. In fact, none of the witnesses supported the police's version of the case. "None of the villagers have spoken such fact. So, there is absolutely no evidence to prove that the accused were members of a Naxal group and they were concealing accused 1-5 or assisting them with naxal activities in Kuthloor village," read the judgement.

The Dakshina Kannada district judge, B B Jakati, pointed out that police did not find any evidence to support their case in the three mobile phones seized. "Even during the course of the trial, the prosecution has not shown which are all the incriminating evidence available in the original mobiles seized by the Investigating Officer. So, mere seizure of mobiles from the custody of accused or at their instance would not help the case of the prosecution in any manner. There should be incriminating material data stored in the mobile to show the activities of the accused number 6 (Vittala) and 7 (Lingappa)," the judge added.

One of the allegations against the duo was that they were harboring five other accused members who were allegedly involved in terrorist activities. But judge BB Jakati pointed out that the police could not find corroborating witnesses or find a link in the mobile phones seized. 

Further, the court recorded a police officer's observations that most of the materials seized in the case were items used in day-to-day life. "PW7, who is another police officer, has also admitted that the entire M.O 1 to 26 are the things which are required for day-to-day life. So, the police themselves have admitted that M.O 1 to 26 are not articles used by the accused either for concealing accused 1-5 or for any illegal activities of banned organisation.” 

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