India court acquits 69 Hindus of murder of 11 Muslims during 2002 riots

The 69 Hindus were acquitted of the murder of 11 Muslims during communal riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

India court acquits 69 Hindus of murder of 11 Muslims during 2002 riots

A court in India on Thursday acquitted 69 Hindus including a former minister of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of the murders of 11 Muslims in communal riots that took place in Gujarat, a western state in 2002.

The killings took place in Ahmedabad, India, on February 28, 2002. A day earlier, a mob of suspected Muslims had set ablaze a train of Hindu pilgrims. This was one of the worst religious massacres that India has seen since independence.

A total of 86 Hindus, including 17 who died in court, were charged with the murders that took place in the Naroda Gam District of Ahmedabad. All of the accused are free on bail.

Chetan Shah, a defense lawyer who represents 82 of those accused, stated that he had been saying since the beginning that the defendants were being framed. Some of the accused weren't present on the day of incident.

Shamshad Pathan said that the victims would appeal the decision of the court to a higher court.

Justice has once again eluded victims. Pathan stated that they would study the reasons why the court acquitted those accused.

Among those acquitted are Maya Kodnani - a former Minister of Prime Minister NarendraModi's BJP who was a legislator at the time of riots - former Bajrang Dal Leader Babu Bajrangi and Vishwa Hindi Parishad (VHP), leader Jaydeep Patel.

Bajrang Dal, VHP and other Hindu nationalist groups have strong links with the BJP.

Kodnani also was charged in a case where 97 people died in the riots of 2002. She was initially convicted, but was later acquitted.

In Gujarat, at least 1,000 people were killed in 2002, mainly Muslims. Activists estimated the death toll as being more than twice that amount.

Critics accused Modi of not protecting Muslims when he was the chief minister. Modi denies the allegations, and an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court found no evidence that could be used to prosecute him.

According to Reuters the acquittal came eight months after eleven men who were jailed for a life sentence for the gang rape of a Muslim woman pregnant during the riots, were released on remission. This drew condemnation from the widower of the victim, lawyers, and politicians.

The men were found guilty in early 2008, and they were released from prison in Panchmahals (in the western state Gujarat) on 15 August when India celebrated 75 Years since the end British rule.

Reuters reported that Panchmahals’ top bureaucrat said the district jail advisory panel had recommended their release, after taking into consideration the time they spent in prison and their good behaviour.