Six months after senior journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder, a special investigation police team probing the case made the first arrest on Friday.They have got five more days to continue the interrogation of KT Naveen Kumar alias Hotte Manja, who was taken into custody for questioning a week ago.
Naveen Kumar, in his late thirties,is from Mandya district in Karnataka.He was caught at the Bengaluru city bus stand by the central crime branch police on February 18 for allegedly being in illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition.
SIT police arrested a member of a hard-line Hindu group on Friday for the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh late last year, officials said.
K.T. Naveen Kumar was arrested on suspicion of supplying the weapons used to kill Lankesh, according to a senior police officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to talk to media. More arrests are expected, he said.
Gauri Lankesh, 55, a critic of right-wing ideology and a fierce advocate of secularism, edited Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a weekly newspaper.
The Special Investigation Team, probing the murder, said it arrested alleged gunrunner KT Naveen Kumar, who was taken into police custody on March 2 for interrogation in connection with the case after six months of the killing. This is the first arrest in the case after the 55-year old Lankesh, known as an anti-establishment voice with strident anti-right wing views, was shot dead at close range by unknown assailants at her home here on September 5 last year.
DCP, M N Anucheth, the investigating officer in the case, told media persons Replying to a question, the officer said that in the interest of protecting witnesses and further investigation,we cannot reveal his role at this juncture.”The evidence collected so far confirm him as an accused in the case and thus we have arrested him,” he said.
Senior officer said, Kumar, in his 30s,was suspected to be linked with a fringe right-wing radical group. Initially, he was arrested on February 19 on charges of illegally possessing five bullets. A case under the Arms Act was then registered against him and he was remanded to judicial custody by a court.Subsequently the SIT team took him under body warrant and after interrogation,he was taken into eight-days custody by the SIT for suspected links in the Lankesh murder case and after interrogation the SIT team thus arrested him on Friday,and we believe Naveen Kumar played a ‘small but significant’ role in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead at close range by unidentified men outside her home in Bengaluru on the night of September 5 last year. He is not being considered one of the main accused or the man who actually pulled the trigger but there is hope he will be able to give vital clues to the investigators he added.
Karnataka Home Minister, Ramalinga Reddy, told media persons that the murder probe would end soon. The minister has made similar statements earlier as well.
The prosecution told the court that it was exploring the option of adding Section 118 to the charges against Naveen Kumar.The section pertains to concealing information on offences that could attract death penalty or life imprisonment.Since the offence he is allegedly trying to conceal is murder which could be punishable by death or life term Kumar will face up to seven years in jail if convicted under Section 118.
Kumar is also suspected to have hatched another murder plot that of killing Mysore-based rationalist Professor KS Bhagwan. Police believe the plot was thwarted when Kumar was arrested with bullets in his possession.
The main accused in the case is still at large. Kumar is only one of the accused. During interrogation, he revealed some information, but hid a lot, which is why we would want to continue our investigation with him under custody, and carry out forensic tests to verify the statements he has made thus far,” public prosecutor Nirmal Rani, who appeared for the SIT, told the court.and she even said Permission has been sought from the magistrate for a lie detector test, narco analysis and a brain-mapping test.The SIT took his consent during investigation and that consent was also recorded in audio/video. Later, in the court hall, he said he doesn’t want to go for this, may be because of some pressure. But he had given consent, which was taken in writing and also submitted to the court,We gave the details to the court in a sealed cover as some revelations made by Kumar are confidential and may hamper the investigation if revealed in open court, The prosecutor also told the court there is no guarantee the accused will be in Bengaluru for the five days, as he may be taken to other places as part of the investigation to identify places and people who could be involved in the case she added.
The defence lawyer, however, claimed that Kumar had not given any such consent. “One CD was given to the magistrate.That CD was not disclosed to us.The magistrate wanted to give some verdict only after seeing the CD. At the same time,they wanted to do brain mapping.We objected to brain mapping because even KT Naveen Kumar is not ready to undergo this,” defence lawyer Amruthesh told reporters.
His other lawyer A Vedamurthy told the court that they were not given access often enough to speak to their client and wanted directions from the court on specific timings set aside for this. The court, however, only said that they will be given access to the client as and when the latter sought a meeting.
Interestingly, Kumar was granted bail in the case he faces under the Arms Act — that of illegally possessing bullets.When he was arrested, around 15 bullets of .32 calibre were seized from him, leading to questions on whether he possessed them for another hit. The bail order came from a different magistrate around an hour after Kumar was named accused in the Gauri Lankesh case and his custody extended. He will, thus, remain in SIT custody till March 15.
Police sources said they tried to get Kumar involved in the reconstruction of some facets of the case, including getting him to ride a bike near Gauri Lankesh’s home and recording the same to match the footage from CCTV cameras. Cyber forensic experts are part of the inquiry to establish digital evidence in the case.
BJP Leaders Express Displeasure;
The BJP on Saturday expressed its “displeasure” over the arrest of Mandya-based Hindu Yuva Sene leader Naveen Kumar in connection with the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru.
Karnataka BJP general secretary C T Ravi tweeted: “Congress continues its ‘neech politics’ in Karnataka as the Siddaramaiah government is implicating a Hindu karyakarta from Maddur in the journalist Gauri Lankesh murder case. The state’s incompetent CM and home minister are ruining the life of an innocent to cover up their failures.” Ravi’s allegation comes at a time when Kumar was named accused no. 1 in the case and arrested on Friday.
The arrest of Naveen has sparked a furore among the Hindu outfits who said in their statement, that they have complained to the DG&IGP, Neelamani Raju, that Hindu organisations are unnecessarily targeted in the killing of the 55-year-old journalist. Bharatiya Janata Party’s general Secretary Shobha Karandlaje said, “Siddaramaiah government is trying to fix a Hindu in Gauri Lankesh case she added.
The state government, which constituted the SIT headed by Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) B K Singh, had announced Rs 10 lakh reward for anyone giving clues about the perpetrators of the crime.
The killing of the journalist had drawn widespread condemnation and the Siddaramaiah government had come under flak for not making any headway in nabbing the culprits.
Her death was seen as part of a series of unsolved killings of rationalists that included Professor MM Kalburgi, who was shot outside his home in Dharwad in north Karnataka in 2015, and also the murders of Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar from Maharashtra.