More than 14 years on, a special trial court here on Thursday convicted 24 persons in the 2002 Gulbarg society massacre case. Eleven of them were convicted of murder and the rest of arson and rioting among other charges.
A total of 69 people, including a former parliamentarian, were killed in this post-Godhra communal riot in Gujarat.
The court dropped the conspiracy charge for lack of evidence. The trial court, however, acquitted 36 accused, including a BJP local leader Bipin Patel and former police inspector K.G. Erda, giving them the benefit of the doubt due to lack of evidence.
Prominent among the convicts is Atul Vaidya, a local VHP leader, who has been found guilty of arson and rioting but not murder.
Trial court judge P.B. Desai, fourth judge in the protracted trial that had begun in 2009, will pronounce the quantum of sentence on June 6.
“We will seek capital punishment for 11 accused because the offence is barbaric and urge the court to consider it as the rarest of the rare case; 10-12 years’ jail sentence will be sought for 13 others who have been found guilty of lesser offences,” Special Public Prosecutor R.C. Kodekar said after the verdict.
This is the eighth of the nine cases the Supreme Court-appointed SIT had probed and trial was monitored by the apex court. The trial saw many twists and turns and controversies from the beginning, prompting the apex court to stay proceedings along with other most crucial cases after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) filed a petition challenging the investigation by the Gujarat police.
In 2008, the apex court constituted an SIT to reinvestigate the nine cases and special designated courts were set up for trial.
Reacting to the verdict, Zakia Jafri, whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was among the massacred, said she would continue to fight for justice as many accused have been acquitted.
“I am happy to see 24 have been found guilty but at the same time, 36 have been let off so it’s incomplete justice,” she said.
As soon as the judge started reading his verdict in the overcrowded courtroom, relatives of victims and accused erupted in celebrations.
The court complex was turned into a fortress with heavy police deployment. Hundreds of relatives of victims and accused had gathered to hear the verdict.
The court completed the trial in September 2015 but was restrained by the apex court from pronouncing its verdict. Subsequently, the apex court directed the trial court to pass the verdict by May 31. A total of 338 witnesses were examined by the court during the trial that had begun almost seven years after the gruesome massacre was carried out.
Main accused let off: Congress
The Congress on Thursday described as “half justice” the conviction of 24 of the 66 accused in the Gulbarg Society massacre case by an Ahmedabad court.
“It is half justice. I say half justice because the main accused — a BJP corporator — has been let free,” party leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters here.
“In all such cases, the foot soldiers, the people who take orders, are found guilty.” The people who “masterminded” the massacre should also be brought to book, Mr. Ramesh said.
Here are some reactions to the court ruling:
>#GulbergSociety acquittal shows that what happens when wrong persons implicated as accused, Congress must answer— chandra (@Ch1969Chandra) >June 2, 2016
If they didn't convict the murderers of Ehsan Jafri, justice remains evasive. >#GulbergSociety— Aarti Tikoo Singh (@AartiTikoo) >June 2, 2016
A funny verdict, no prominent figure convicted. No investigations for conpiracy. All conspirators acquitted easily. >#GulbergSociety— Mujeeb Uddin (@Mujeeb_Warsi) >June 2, 2016