Mon Jun 12, 2006 3:13 PM IST168
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Zahira Sheikh, a key witness to an attack on the Best Bakery that killed 14 Muslims during religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 was sentenced to three months in jail on Monday, her second conviction for repeatedly changing her testimony before courts.
Evidence given by Sheikh, whose family owned the Best Bakery in Gujarat that was set ablaze by a Hindu mob, was seen as key to attempts to obtain justice for hundreds of Muslim victims of the rioting.
But Sheikh recanted her statements in various courts, prompting the Supreme Court to jail her for one year in March. Activists say Hindu groups pressured Sheikh not to disclose information about the incident.
Ruling on a perjury charge brought against Sheikh by a special court in Mumbai, a judge found her guilty and ordered her to serve a three-month term in addition to the one-year sentence she is currently serving.
"We have not decided on appeal. In any case, three months is a small time. She can begin her life again after that," Sheikh's counsel Umesh Deshpande told Reuters.
India's justice system is plagued by witnesses who change their testimony either for financial gain or after being threatened by people seeking to protect the accused.
Human rights groups say about 2,500 people — mostly Muslim — were killed in the Gujarat riots, some of the worst in India since independence in 1947, but official estimates put the figure at just over 1,000.
The riots erupted after 59 Hindus were burned to death in a train compartment by a suspected Muslim mob.
The Best Bakery was attacked by a 1,500-strong Hindu mob who hacked or burned to death 14 people inside.