Ahmedabad: Calling Gulbarg massacre the "darkest day" in the history of civil society, a special SIT court today awarded life term to 11 convicts for burning alive 69 people, including former Congress MP Eshan Jafri, in one of the worst riots post-Godhra violence in 2002.
However, the judgement left the prosecution, Jafri's widow Zakia and civil rights activists disappointed saying it was lenient on the perpetrators of the worst type of violence in a residential colony in Gujarat's capital.
The case pertains to the massacre of 69 people, including former Congress lawmaker Ehsan Jafri, during communal riots in Gujarat on February 28, 2002.
The judge also said he would not write in the verdict that those convicted of murder and sentenced to life must be kept in prison till their last breath in view of their good conduct while on bail and in jail.
Rejecting the demand for death sentence for all the convicts, the court said life imprisonment for the 11 will be till death if the state does not exercise power to remit the sentence, which Special court Judge P B Desai said was not necessary.
It awarded ten-year jail term to one of the 13 convicted for lesser offences while the other 12 have been given a seven-year sentence each. The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given death penalty.
While describing the massacre as the darkest day in the history of civil society, the judge refused death penalty saying, "If you look at all aspects, no previous antecedent has been placed on record".
During the hearing earlier, the defence said the eight witnesses have not been able to recognize the convicts, adding minimum punishment should be given on this basis.
Appearing for the accused, Rajkot-based senior lawyer Abhay Bharadwaj had earlier said that they should be given a chance to reform themselves as they don't have past criminal records.
Post the incident, 90 per cent of the accused were released on bail. Yet no complaints against them have been given even by victims, and there is no record to show that they committed any offence during the time of bail, the judge further said, while giving reasons why he thought that this was not a fit case to give capital punishment to the convicts.
Zakia Jafri said she was a witness to the “brutal” killing of her husband.
“They stripped him, chopped off his limbs and burnt him alive on the street. Is this the punishment for that brutal killing?” asked the 78-year-old woman who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle for justice.
Indicating she would approach the higher court, Zakia said she would talk to her lawyer for the next step.
Civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad said it was a “diluted and weak” judgment and vowed to appeal against it.
“Eleven people were given life imprisonment since they were convicted in serious offences. But the biggest disappointment for us is the rest of the convicts, including 12 given seven years of imprisonment,” she said.