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11 jailed for life over 2002 anti-Muslim riots in India

Published 17/06/2016

A police van carries some of those who were convicted to jail (AP)
A police van carries some of those who were convicted to jail (AP)

An Indian court has sentenced 11 people to life in prison for murder in connection with anti-Muslim riots that swept across the state of Gujarat in 2002 and left more than 1,000 dead.

Special Court Judge PB Desai rejected the demand for the death penalty as the prosecution failed to prove the charge of a criminal conspiracy against the defendants.

The judge sentenced 12 more defendants to seven years in prison and one to 10 years in connection with the same deadly riot in a Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmadabad, in which dozens of homes were set on fire and 69 people were killed.

The dead included a former lawmaker from the opposition Congress party, Ehsan Jafri.

His widow, Zakia Jafri, expressed her disappointment with the verdict. "This is hardly the punishment for the crime they have committed."

Activist Anand Yagnik said the death penalty would have been a proper punishment for the convicts.

The Gujarat riots, which erupted after a railway carriage full of Hindu nationalists was engulfed in a fire that killed 60 people, pitted mobs of Hindus against Muslims, who were widely blamed for starting the fire, though arson was never confirmed.

The riots have dogged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat's top elected official at the time, amid allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Mr Modi has repeatedly denied having any role, and India's Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.

But criminal cases against participants in the riots have moved slowly through India's creaky legal system.

The first high-profile convictions came in 2012 when Maya Kodnani, a former state government minister, and 31 others were found guilty of charges ranging from rioting to murder linked to an attack in a small industrial town on Ahmadabad's outskirts in which 95 people were killed.

Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years in prison but has been freed on bail pending her appeal.

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