Content Regulation / Censorship, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Perozo and others v. Venezuela
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
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The Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime in India sentenced nine people to life imprisonment and hefty fines for conspiring to murder senior journalist Jyoti Kumar Dey. The Court had to decide whether it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused persons acted in concert to assassinate Mr. Dey. The Court reasoned that “all conspirators are liable for the acts of each other of the crime or crimes which have been committed as a result of the conspiracy” and “that it was not necessary that each member of the conspiracy must know all the details of the conspiracy”.
The deceased journalist, Mr. Jyoti Kumar Dey, reported on matters relating to the underworld and had written “two books making some negative references to the Accused No. 12 Mr. Chhota Rajan” [para 3]. Mr. Dey was in the process of getting two more books published and Accused No. 12 Mr. Chhota Rajan “feared [that] the books portrayed him in such a manner that he would lose his hold and influence in the underworld” [para 5]. Thus, he hatched a conspiracy to eliminate Mr. Dey along with the other accused persons who participated directly in the murder or indirectly by following the victim, procuring arms, destroying evidence etc. The journalist was murdered on May 11, 2011, when he went out on his motorcycle and seven of the accused persons followed him, fired multiple rounds at him and fled from the scene.
The accused persons were charged under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, 1999 (hereafter, MCOC), the Arms Act, 1959 relating to criminal conspiracy, murder and being a member of an organized criminal group, amongst others.
The MCOC Special Court had to decide whether it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused persons acted in concert to assassinate Mr. Dey and, further, it had to assess the involvement of each person in the conspiracy.
Judge S.S. Adkar, sitting as a single judge of the MCOC Special Court convicted nine of the accused persons and acquitted the remaining three accused persons for lack of evidence.
In ascertaining whether it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused persons acted in concert to assassinate Mr. Dey and the involvement of each person in the conspiracy, the Court took extensive evidence from all parties.
The prosecution relied upon the judicial and extrajudicial confessions of the accused persons, the various mobile phones and SIM cards recovered, the recovery of the murder weapon, the vehicles used in the crime, CCTV footage and oral evidence of the connected witnesses. The defense relied upon various procedural shortcomings such as those pertaining to the registration of the First Information Report, improper inquest reports, the arrest of the accused persons, seizure of articles from the accused persons at the time of arrest, inadmissibility of judicial and extrajudicial confessions to demonstrate that proof could not be established beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court rejected the pleas taken by the accused persons and stated that the evidence of the offense had been proved beyond reasonable doubt. It held that in a criminal conspiracy, “all conspirators are liable for the acts of each other of the crime or crimes that have been committed as a result of the conspiracy” [para 62] and that “it was not necessary that each member of the conspiracy must know all details of the conspiracy” [para 68]. Further, it held that the judicial confession of Accused No. 5 was voluntary and truthful and could “be used not only against him but also against the other accused persons” [para 219]. The Court placed heavy reliance on extrajudicial confessions made by Accused No. 12 in the course of telephonic conversations with senior journalists working in major news organizations in India. The Court held that the voluntariness and truthfulness of the confession could be ascertained by the fact that “when these extra-judicial confessions were made, the accused No. 12 was not in India and was not under the control of any investigating/vigilance authority of India” [para 491]. A noteworthy acquittal was that of Accused No. 11, Ms. Jigna Jiterndra Vora, a rival journalist of Mr. Dey, who allegedly instigated Accused No. 12 to murder Mr. Dey. The case against her was dismissed for lack of “trustworthy evidence against her” [para 210].
The Court held nine of the accused persons guilty of murdering Mr. Jyoti Dey and sentenced them to imprisonment for life along with hefty fines of Rs. 500,000 ($7, 500 approx.) each to be paid to the sister of the deceased person who relied solely on the deceased person for her survival.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Although the case does not have precedential value, its harsh punishments send out a strong message to those perpetrating violence against journalists. In particular, the judge, in deciding the appropriate punishment took note of the prosecutor’s submissions that the press is the fourth pillar of democracy and that the murder of an eminent journalist must be strictly dealt with.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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