A court in India has acquitted 68 people, including a former minister, in a case related to the Gujarat riots of 2002.
The trial, which centred on the deaths of 11 Muslims and lasted around 13 years, ended on Thursday with the acquittal of a former state minister and others.
Details of the judge’s explanation of the decision in one of the more extreme cases are awaited. “Nobody knows who killed the 11 people during the communal riots in Naroda Gam in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002,” said a report in The Wire on Thursday.
It explained the claim thus: “That is because on April 20, Thursday, 21 years after the massacre, all accused, including former Bharatiya Janata Party minister in Gujarat, Maya Kodnani, and former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, have been ac-quitted in the Naroda Gam case.”
“All the accused have been acquitted. We are waiting for a copy of the judgement,” one of the defence lawyers told the media outside the court, even as crowds, including relatives of the accused gathered outside the court, welcomed the verdicts with chants of “Jai Shree Ram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
There were a total of 86 accused in the case, but 18 of them died in the intervening period, The Wire said. The accused were facing charges under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), and 153 (provocation for riots), among others. The maximum punishment for these crimes is death.
The court of S.K. Baxi, special judge for Special Investigation Agency (SIT) cases, pronounced the verdict on Thursday. The prosecution and defence examined 187 and 57 witnesses, respectively, during the trial that started in 2010 and went on for nearly 13 years with six judges successively presiding over the case.
Home Minister Amit Shah had appeared as a defence witness for Kodnani in 2017. Kodnani had requested the court to summon him to prove her alibi that she was present in the Gujarat assembly and later at the Sola Civil Hospital and not at Naroda Gam where the massacre took place.
Among the evidence produced by the prosecution is the video of a sting operation carried out by journalist Ashish Khetan as well as call details of Kodnani, Bajrangi and others during the relevant period. When the trial started, S.H. Vora was the presiding judge.
He was elevated to the Gujarat high court. His suc-cessors, Jyotsna Yagnik, K.K. Bhatt and P.B. Desai, retired during the trial.
Special judge M.K. Dave who came next was trans-ferred. Kodnani, who was a minister inthe Gujarat government, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in jail in the Naroda Patiya killings where 97 people were massacred.
She was later discharged by the Gujarat High Court. The massacre at Naroda Gam was one of the nine major 2002 communal riots cases investigated by the SIT and heard by special courts.—AFP