Five Kerala Congress leaders, who were arrested in connection with actor Joju George‘s car vandalisation, were released on bail on Wednesday, reported The Hindu. The five, who were among those accused of damaging the actor’s car on November 1, were former Kochi mayor Tony Chammany, Manu Jacob, Jerjas Jacob, Shereef, and Joseph Maliyekkal.
The court had observed that the accused, being part of an established political party in Kerala, would not abscond if released on bail and noted that none of them had any criminal records.
However, while releasing them on bail, the magistrate directed the accused to not interfere in any way with the life of the actor, who had registered the complaint against them. They were also asked not to restrain Joju’s free movement or disturb his profession and were warned that flouting this would lead to the cancellation of bail.
The accused are also to not destroy or attempt to destroy evidence or interfere with the investigation into the act of vandalism, the court said, and directed them to appear before the investigating office when required to do so.
On November 1, a protest organised by the Congress party condemning the hike in fuel prices caused a traffic jam for nearly two hours on the Edappally-Vytilla highway. Actor Joju George, who was passing through the protest area, had reportedly questioned the Congress workers, following which the window panes of his vehicle were allegedly broken by the protesters.
In a video clip taken during the altercation, the actor is heard shouting, “I’m not here to show off. It’s been two hours and the vehicles are blocked. What kind of dirty programme is this? This shows the condition of our state.”
Following the incident, Joju filed a complaint against the party leaders for vandalising his car.
A total of eight congress workers were charged in the case. The bail application of the remaining three accused will be heard on Friday.
With regards to the damage to the actor’s vehicle, the court observed that the prosecution had no case that the car was totally destroyed and it estimated that the total value of the property destroyed in the incident was Rs 6 lakh.
The court directed the five Congress leaders who were released on Wednesday to produce a bail bond of Rs 50,000 each, with two solvent sureties for the same amount. They also have to each deposit Rs 37,500 in court or together furnish a bank guarantee of ₹1,87,500 in compliance with the provisions of the Kerala Prevention of Damage to Private Property and Payment of Compensation Act 2019.
The Congress leaders, on the other hand, have alleged that the actor misbehaved with them, including the women protesters. Mahila Congress, the women’s wing of the Indian National Congress, on Wednesday held a protest rally demanding police action against Joju.
Meanwhile, there were reports that the Thrikkakara Municipality, under the Congress party leadership, allegedly denied permission on Tuesday for a film shoot in the locality. However, the Municipality Chairperson Ajitha Thankappan clarified that she had not denied permission outright. According to the report, the initial denial was only a form of expressing the party’s protest and permission was later granted for the film shoot the next day.
On Wednesday, speaking in the assembly, Kerala Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan extended his support to Joju. He also noted that disrupting cinema production and artists is a fascist act. “Kerala is not a fertile ground for fascism, and strong-arm measures will not pass muster in the state. The government will show no mercy to entities which violate the right to freedom of speech and expression,” Vijayan added.
He noted that the attack on Joju was a sign of intolerance which no civil society could encourage. “Nobody can arbitrate what individuals should eat, wear or speak. Kerala swears by creative freedom and individual liberty. It will not allow anybody to take the law into their hands or bully dissenters,” he said.