Eighteen of the 23 people convicted of killing 23 Muslims in Ode during the 2002 Gujarat riots were sentenced to life terms on Thursday. The other five were given seven years rigorous imprisonment.
The court also fined the convicts for offences like arson,rioting and making provocative statements.
Additional Sessions Judge Poonam Singh had on April 9 convicted 18 people on murder and allied charges,four for attempt to murder and allied offences,and one for arson,rioting and similar offences. All the convicts belong to the wealthy and politically powerful Leuva Patel community.
Twenty-three Muslims were burnt alive by a mob that locked them in a three-storey building and set it ablaze in Ode in Anand district on March 1,2002. A day after this incident,an 80-year-old Muslim man was set on fire,but all the 14 accused in that murder were acquitted by the court.
The March 1 Ode case was the first post-Godhra riots case in which the court upheld the conspiracy charge. The Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) had sought death for all the 18 convicted of murder.
Relatives of the convicts gathered in the court premises raised slogans against the sentence and CM Narendra Modi as Haay re Modi haay and Aa nyay nathi (this is not justice),shouted the crowd,comprising mostly women. The situation threatened to get out of hand at one point before the police scattered the protesters.
Among those given life terms are brothers Dilip and Harish Vallabh Patel,who are tobacco dealers. Others in the list are Vinu Bhikha Patel,Vijay Ravji Patel,Jayendra Sata Patel,Suresh Bhailal Patel,Dilip Vinu Patel,Paresh Ranchhod Patel,Arvind Ravji Patel,Hemant Sata alias Golakbhai Patel,Sanat Ranchhod Patel,Manu Jetha Patel,Dilip Ranchhod Patel,Punam Lalji Patel,Dharmesh Natu Patel,Vinu Shana Patel,Natu Mangal Patel and Pravin Mangal Patel.
All 18 have been fined Rs 5,800 each under various penal sections.
Devang Harshad Patel,Girish Soma Patel,Prakash Jashbhai Patel and Dilip Shanabhai Patel have got seven years rigorous imprisonment,and have been fined Rs 3,800 each.
Atul Dahya Patel,convicted of arson and rioting related charges,has been fined Rs 2,800.
Special public prosector P N Parmar said,We had sought capital punishment but the court did not accept it. This could be because many national and international human rights organisations and NGOs have been campaigning to abolish the death penalty. Perhaps because of this psychological pressure,the court did not give death sentence. Scarce execution of death sentences may also have played a role in the court rejecting our demand.
Defence lawyer Ashvin Dhagat said that the court had refused to consider the case of the 18 murder convicts as rarest of the rare and awarded them the minimum punishment,even as it awarded the maximum punishment of seven years jail to the other five convicts.
We are definitely going to appeal against the judgment, Dhagat said.