Mon Dec 4, 2006
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Zahira Sheikh, a key witness to an attack on a Muslim-owned bakery during religious riots in Gujarat in 2002, appealed to the Supreme Court on Monday for clemency after being imprisoned for repeatedly lying under oath.
Sheikh, whose family owned the bakery was set ablaze by a Hindu mob, killing 14 people, was seen as a key witness in attempts to obtain justice for Muslim victims of the rioting.
But Sheikh recanted her statements in various courts, prompting the court to jail her for one year in March, despite activists claiming Hindu groups had pressured her not to disclose information about the incident.
Sheikh — who is in a Mumbai prison — filed a fresh appeal urging the court to reduce her sentence on "humanitarian grounds" to the 10 month period she had already served.
"The applicant is a victim of circumstances. She and her entire family tender unconditional apology for acts/omissions that have occurred on their part," Sheikh's petition said.
She also appealed to the court to set aside a fine of 50,000 rupees imposed on her for wasting the court's time.
The petition is expected to be heard within 10 days.
The Gujarat riots erupted after 59 Hindus were burnt to death in a train compartment by a suspected Muslim mob.
Human rights groups say about 2,500 people — mostly Muslims — were killed in the riots, some of the worst in India, but official estimates put the figure about 1,000.
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.
Many cases in which witnesses "turn hostile" have collapsed as a result and pressure is mounting for those accused of perverting the course of justice to be dealt with more harshly by judges.