Indian court jails eleven for life over weeklong 2002 Gujarat massacre

A relative of a an Indian man convicted for the 2002 Gujarat riots cries after the court announced the lengths of the sentences in Ahmadabad, India, Friday, June 17, 2016. An Indian court has sentenced 11 people to life in prison for murder in one of the many deadly religious riots that swept across the western state of Gujarat in 2002, leaving more than 1,000 dead. Special Court Judge P. B. Desai on Friday rejected the demand for death penalty as the prosecution failed to prove charges of criminal conspiracy against the defendants. The judge also sentenced 12 defendants to seven years in prison and one to 10 years in prison in the case. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

By Rajesh Joshi, AFP

AHMEDABAD, India — An Indian court jailed 11 Hindus for life on Friday over the massacre of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat state 14 years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister. The court sentenced 12 others to seven years in jail over the murder of 69 Muslims who were hacked and burned to death in a residential complex in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, among them women and children. Another was given a 10-year term for rioting and arson. The massacre at the Gulbarg Society housing complex was one of the single worst losses of life in the week-long violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. Several Muslim families had taken shelter in the complex when it was stormed by a mob of attackers angered by the deaths of Hindus in a train fire. Zakia Jafri, whose husband was killed in the massacre and who has campaigned for those responsible to be brought to justice, said the sentences were too lenient.

“After all the horrible things they did to so many people, they still gave such flimsy sentences,” Jaffri told reporters. “I do not like this at all. The law has done grave injustice to me.” Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, arguing that those targeted were all “innocent people.”

“We had pleaded before the court that if you are not convinced about giving the death penalty, at least give life term til the end of life to all the accused,” said public prosecutor R.C. Kodekar after the sentencing. “So (the judgment) is not at all satisfactory. It is lenient and inadequate.” Judge P.B. Desai had earlier ruled the massacre at the Gulbarg Society complex was a spontaneous attack, rejecting claims of a pre-planned conspiracy against Muslims. On Friday he described the religious violence as “one of the darkest days of civil society in Gujarat” and urged the government not to commute, shorten or otherwise alter the sentences.

No Help Came

More than 100 people have already been convicted over the riots, including one of Modi’s former state ministers who was jailed for instigating some of the killings. Jafri has said her husband, a former opposition Congress party lawmaker, repeatedly called police for help, but none came. She is fighting a separate legal battle demanding that Modi and others be held responsible for failing to stop the riots. The issue has long dogged Modi, who was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence as head of Gujarat state. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012 by a Supreme Court-ordered investigation. The violence was triggered by the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire on February 27, 2002 that was initially blamed on Muslims. Hindus bent on revenge rampaged through Muslim neighborhoods in some of India’s worst religious riots since independence from Britain and partition in 1947.