Indian court acquits magazine editor of rape charges

Former journalist Tarun Tejpal (right) leaves after being acquitted in the sexual assault case, at the district court of Mapusa in Goa, on May 21, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - A court in India on Friday (May 21) acquitted a former top news magazine editor of charges he raped a colleague in an eight-year-old case that raised questions about the safety of women in the workplace.

The prosecution said it planned to appeal the verdict.

Tarun Tejpal, 58, was editor of Tehelka magazine, which made a name for itself by exposing corruption and abuse of power in high places. The magazine had also taken a stand in pushing for society to confront sexual violence.

Police said Tejpal assaulted a female staff member in a hotel elevator during a conference in Goa state in 2013.

Special Public Prosecutor Francisco Tavora told Reuters in a text message that a Goa trial court had acquitted Tejpal and the prosecution planned to appeal.

"The state is aggrieved by the order," Tavora said.

Details of why the court had thrown out the case would be available after a written judgement was released, Tavora's office said.

The high-profile case was presented as a fight for justice for a young employee against a celebrity editor in a country where few speak out about abuse of power and sexual harassment in the workplace.

On Friday, Tejpal said he was relieved judge Kshama Joshi had thrown out the case based on false accusations of sexual assault. His family had gone through a difficult time, he said.

"The past seven-and-half years have been traumatic for my family as we have dealt with the catastrophic fallout of these false allegations on every aspect of our personal, professional and public lives," he said in a statement his daughter read outside the court.

There was no response from the complainant, who cannot be identified under Indian law to protect her privacy.

The chief minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant, said his government would appeal the verdict in the High Court.

"We will not tolerate any injustice to women in Goa. It is extremely sad."

India's laws on rape have been tightened and fast track courts have been set up since the gang-rape of a young woman in a Delhi bus and her murder in 2012 shocked the country.

But the criminal justice system remains notoriously slow and cases are still taking an average of six years to reach a final ruling, according to governance tracking group Daksh. Many cases fall by the wayside.

"The judicial system lets down another woman. No wonder women do not want to file a complaint with the police," Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, a leftist group fighting for women's rights, said on Twitter.

"At the end of it all, the courageous woman did not get even a tiny taste of justice."

Activists say women in Indian workplaces hesitate to speak up about sexual harassment by colleagues, managers or employers, fearful of losing their jobs or facing public opprobrium.

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