A special SIT court in Gujarat on Friday sentenced 11 convicts to life term in Gulberg Society massacre, that killed 69 people in 2002.
The court also rejected the demands for death sentence for all the convicts saying that the the convicts will spend rest of their life in jail if the state did not remit their sentence.
The burning alive of 69 people in 2002 anti-Muslim riots had also included a former Congress MP, EEhsan Jafri.
The court earlier this month had found 24 people guilty on 2 June, while it had exonerated 42 other accused.
Jafri’s wife, Zakiya Jafri had demanded death sentence for all convicts.
Today’s sentencing, widely perceived to be quite lenient for an otherwise ‘rarest of the rare’ crimes, is bound to bring the credibility of the judiciary in Gujarat under fresh scrutiny.
The role of judges and prosecutions in Gujarat have always been questionable all through the trials of riots accused.
Special court Judge P B Desai justified his rationale for awarding the convicts death sentence by saying, “If you look at all aspects, no previous antecedent has been placed on record.”
Desai added that that after the incident, 90 percent of the accused were released on bail and no complaints against them filed even by victims adding that there was no record to show that they committed any offence during the time of bail.
The court ‘requested’ the state not to use its power to remit the sentence after 14 years of imprisonment.
“CrPC provisions give power to the state to remit sentence after 14 years jail, section 433-A imposes some restriction on that power. In case the state does not exercise power to remit the sentence, life imprisonment will mean that it is till death,” the court was quoted by the PTI.
“I cannot add beyond what has been prescribed under section 302, it is not necessary for a state to exercise power to remit sentence, state may not exercise power of remittance,” the judge said, adding the court’s direction cannot be binding as he cannot take away the executive powers of the state.
Judge Desai had taken over the trial in November 2014 and concluded the final arguments in September last year.
During the trial, riots victim’s lawyer had argued that the massacre was a pre-planned criminal conspiracy hatched by the accused to kill minority community members of the Gulberg Society.
The verdict comes 14 years after a mob led by Hindutva forces consisting of nearly 20000 armed militants attacked Gulbarg society – a cluster of 29 bungalows and 10 apartment buildings housing mostly Muslims – killing 69 people on 28 February 2002.
Zakiya Jafri, now 77, has been fighting to get her deceased husband the justice despite her failing health. She has asked for the death penalty for the killers of her husband.
Zakiya has always alleged that Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister in 2002, was complicit in the anti-Muslim carnage that killed more than 2000 people unofficially and little over 1000, according to official figure.