//Life sentences in India riot case

Life sentences in India riot case

Life sentences in India riot case

Best Bakery after attack (Photo Sabrang Communications)

Fourteen people were killed in the attack on the bakery

A court in India has sentenced nine people to life imprisonment in a high-profile case related to the 2002 riots in the western state of Gujarat.

Twelve Muslims and two others were burned to death when the Best Bakery was attacked, allegedly by a Hindu mob.

The riots had been sparked by the death of nearly 60 Hindus in a blaze on a train in Godhra in February 2002.

More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in the riots. Human rights groups put the death toll much higher.

A special court conducting a retrial found the nine guilty of killing 14 people during the arson attack on the bakery. They had been acquitted in an earlier trial.

The court acquitted eight of the 21 people accused in the attack. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of four others accused in the who are absconding.

Retrial

Human rights campaigners saw the Best Bakery trial as a test case in the pursuit of justice following the 2002 Gujarat riots.

This verdict will be a signal to others

Manjula Rao, special prosecutor

All the accused in the case had been acquitted in the original trial after the prosecution’s main witness Zahira Sheikh retracted her evidence.

Ms Sheikh said she had retracted her testimony because she had been threatened by local politicians.

That led the Supreme Court to order a retrial in the case in neighbouring Maharashtra state.

Perjury

Later a committee set up by India’s Supreme Court found that Ms Sheikh had lied in her testimony. The committee said it appeared she had been bribed to change her story.

The court on Friday found Ms Sheikh and her family guilty of perjury and issued a show-cause notice to them asking them to explain why they turned hostile witnesses.

Gujarat riot

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots

"I am very satisfied, specially with the notices issued to Zahira Sheikh and her family. I had prayed that they be taken to task for turning hostile in the case. This verdict will be a signal to others," Manjula Rao, special prosecutor appointed by the Supreme Court told the BBC.

A legal expert Majeed Memon welcomed the judgement.

"It is belated justice. Still it is firm and assertive justice in India for the minorities," he said.

Gujarat police and local authorities have been heavily criticised for failing to come to the help of victims during the violence, which was among the worst in India since partition in 1947.

The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from the disputed holy site at Ayodhya when it was attacked.

How the blaze in which the pilgrims and their families died started is not clear.

An interim inquiry conducted by the rail ministry concluded that the fire was an accident, although this view is being challenged by the main opposition BJP.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4745926.stm