A Rajasthan court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan leader Nikhil Dey and four others to four months in jail on charges of “trespass” and “causing hurt” in a 19-year-old case. The magistrate court in Ajmer suspended the judgement pending appeals by the activists.

“The process of this case that has continued for almost two decades, and the final decision, is a body blow to the effort of citizens to fight corruption and stand up for the rights of the citizen,” the MKSS said in a statement. “It is a clear case of miscarriage of justice. We are deeply disappointed by the verdict.”

The case dates back to 1998 when RTI activist Dey had visited Harmara village in Ajmer to investigate allegations that the village sarpanch had been involved in acts of corruption. Pyarelal, a liquor contractor and the sarpanch of the village, had been accused of fudging payments for toilets, Indira Awaas houses and labour payments for development works.

On May 6, 1998, five activists, including Dey and Naurti Bai, visited Pyarelal’s house to deliver an official letter in connection with the allegations. “We were punched and kicked around by Pyarelal and his family,” Dey told The Indian Express.

While the activists decided not to approach the police, Pyarelal filed a case against them alleging trespass and causing hurt under Sections 451 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code. Following this, Naurti also filed a case under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act accusing Pyarelal of committing violence and shouting slurs at her.

Though the case was closed by the police in June 1998, three years later, in July 2001, the sarpanch produced false witnesses and revived his case, the MKSS said in the statement.

“The MKSS will leave no stone unturned to bring out the whole truth of this case…” the statement said. “…[The MKSS] will not allow vested interests to misuse the law to suppress the voice of people demanding transparency, and demands for justice by the poor.”