Top Indian editor to appear in court over rape case

PANAJI, India (AFP) - Indian news magazine editor Tarun Tejpal landed in the holiday state of Goa on Friday promising to appear in court where he faces a possible rape charge that could see him jailed for 10 years.

Police have been searching for the founder of Tehelka, an investigative magazine responsible for some of India's hardest-hitting undercover journalism, who flew from his home in New Delhi on Friday afternoon.

In court in the city of Panaji, a judge granted him "relief from arrest" until at least 10am (12.30pm Singapore time) on Saturday when hearings will resume, contradicting Indian media reports that he had been detained already.

His lawyer Geeta Luthra, addressing the judge in court, promised that the ponytailed 50-year-old would appear in court personally on Saturday.

"(He gets) interim relief from arrest till 10am tomorrow, when the case will be heard again," judge Anuja Prabhudessai said late Friday.

Goa's top policeman Kishan Kumar confirmed to AFP that Tejpal had not been arrested or detained on his arrival in Goa.

With India's media newly sensitised to sexual assault cases after a string of widely publicised gang rape cases this year, the incident has been front-page news for more than a week.

The case has also cast a spotlight on abuse in the workplace.

The victim has told police her former employer molested her twice in a hotel elevator in Goa during a magazine-sponsored event in the seaside holiday hot spot earlier this month.

She has deposed before a magistrate, the first legal step in criminal proceedings in India, and police have opened a case.

The fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus last December sparked sometimes violent demonstrations and a long period of introspection in India about rising crime against women and gender inequality.

The magazine has reported forcefully on gender inequality in India recently, highlighting police and judicial insensitivity to rape victims as well as the misogynistic attitudes of many Indian men.

It has been accused of hypocrisy and trying to cover up a serious crime after staff were sent an e-mail last week saying Tejpal was stepping down for six months for "misconduct".

The victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said in a statement to media groups on Friday that she was fighting to preserve her "integrity".

"Unlike Mr Tejpal, who is fighting to protect his wealth, his influence and his privilege, I am fighting to preserve nothing except for my integrity and my right to assert that my body is my own and not the plaything of my employer," she said.

"By filing my complaint, I have lost not just a job that I loved, but much-needed financial security... I have also opened myself to personal and slanderous attack."

"This will not be an easy battle," she added.

Tejpal, also a famed novelist, has denied rape and said their encounter was consensual.

In an e-mail sent to staff, Tejpal admitted that "a bad lapse of judgement, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for".

Under a new tougher rape law passed by parliament after the New Delhi gang rape, he could be jailed for ten years, lawyers say.