The Gujarat High Court on Thursday acquitted 14 of the 31 people convicted in the Sardarpura massacre case. It upheld the life sentence of the remaining 17. In a post-Godhra riots incident, 33 Muslims were burnt alive by a mob at Sardarpura in Vijapur taluka of Mehsana district on the night of February 28, 2002.
Eleven of the 14 people, acquitted by a division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav, were given “benefit of doubt”, while three got clean chit.
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Terming the Sardarpura incident as an act of “revenge”, the special court had pronounced its verdict in 2011, acquitting 31 accused and sentencing the other 31 to life imprisonment. The plea against the 31 acquittals — moved by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, the state government and family members of the victims — was also rejected by the High Court on Thursday.
Senior lawyer Yogesh Lakhani, who represented the 31 petitioners challenging their conviction, said the detailed order would be available after Diwali vacation.
He also said the High Court brushed aside charges under Indian Penal Code Sections 295A (hurting religious feeling), 336 and 337 (act of endangering life or personal safety of others) against all convicts and those acquitted. However, this will not impact the sentencing of the convicts as their jail term will run concurrently.
The Sardarpura massacre was the first of the nine post-Godhra riots cases to be probed by the SIT.
A day after the Sabarmati Express burning incident, which claimed 59 lives, mostly karsevaks, a mob gathered near Sheikh Vaas, a Muslim-populated area in Sardarpura, and burnt the house of one Ibrahim Sheikh, where the victims had taken shelter.