Mehsana: A special court in Gujarat today convicted 31 of the 73 accused in the 2002 Sardarpura post-Godhra riot case in which 33 people of a minority community were burnt alive.
The quantum of punishment is likely to be pronounced later in the day by principal District and Session Judge S C Srivastava after hearing the convicts.
Out of the 42 acquitted, 11 were freed due to lack of evidence, while 31 were given the benefit of doubt, who have been asked to submit a solvency bond of Rs 25,000 each. The court has also directed them not to leave the country without its permission.
This is the first post-Godhra riot case, probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), on which the verdict has been pronounced. The 31 convicted have been charged with murder, attempt to murder, rioting and other sections of IPC, while charges of criminal conspiracy against them were dropped by the court.
After the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 people, mainly karsevaks, were burnt to death on February 27 2002, riots had taken place across the state, in which Sardarpura town in Vijapur taluka also fell prey to violence.
A strong mob had surrounded a lane called ‘Sheikh vaas’ on the intervening night of February 28 and March 1, 2002, where minority population of the village used to live. Fearing the worst, people of the minority community took shelter in a house owned by one Ibrahim Sheikh. However, the mob torched the house after pouring petrol, in which, 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.
In all, 76 accused were arrested in the Sardarpur case by the police, out of which, two died during pendency of trial, while one was a juvenile, against whom, trial was on in a juvenile court. The court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009 and initiated trial in the case.
The prosecution alleged that the attack on minority community was pre-planned and the conspiracy was hatched by some local leader, following the Godhra train burning incident.
It had further submitted that weapons were distributed by the accused in the run-up to the incident, who, however claimed that they were being falsely implicated and the violence was perpetrated by people, who had come from outside.
Advocate Y B Sheikh, representing the riot victims, said that over 80 witnesses, who were also victims of the violence, had named the accused while giving statement to the police and and also correctly identified accused in court during trial.
While the trial was on, 112 witnesses were examined, out of the 157 named in the charge sheet. These include 20 doctors, 17 inquest witnesses, 40 riot victims, 20 police and 15 others .