Sardarpura Massacre – Life Sentence Confirmed against 17

A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav concluded that the 14 people had to be acquitted due to lack of evidence and contradiction in witnesses’ account.

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court on October 20 upheld the life sentence for 17 accused of burning to death 59 persons, including 33 women, during February-March 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat after the train coach burning tragedy. However it acquitted 14 persons out of the total 31, giving them ‘benefit of doubt’.
The crime, which eventually came to be known as the infamous Sardarpura massacre case, had taken place to ‘avenge’ the Godhra train burning. Earlier, a lower court had sentenced all the 31 for life.
A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav concluded that the 14 people had to be acquitted due to lack of evidence and contradiction in witnesses’ account.
This is a very important decision because after the massacre, 76 people had been accused and arrested by the police. After the high court’s decision, 14 of those 76 stand convicted.
The Sardapura massacre case was the first of the nine post-Godhra riot cases probed by Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former CBI Director RK Raghavan.
Out of the 76 initially arrested, two died during pendency of trial, while one was a juvenile.
A special SIT court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009 and initiated trial in the case.
The high court also upheld the decision of lower court to not accept the “conspiracy theory” put up by the prosecution, which had alleged that the attack on the Muslims was pre-planned and a conspiracy was hatched following the Godhra train burning incident.
The prosecution had claimed that a conspiracy had been hatched by some local leaders to target Muslims of Sardarpura in Vijapur taluka. As per SIT submissions, villagers had started gathering at the Panchayat office from around 9.30 pm on 28 February, 2002, as part of a conspiracy.
A mob of hundreds of people had surrounded a lane, called ‘Sheikh Vaas’, in Sardarpura, after which the house of Sheikh Ibrahim was burnt. The mob also stood there to ensure nobody could rescue people shouting for help inside the house.

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