India hands down Godhra verdict

Court finds 31 people guilty of setting fire to a train in 2002, which sparked major religious violence in Gujarat.

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    An Indian court has found 31 people guilty of the 2002 Godhra train burning, which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims and sparked religious violence that left 2,000 people dead.

    The court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, also acquitted 63 people of participating in the attack, following a trial that ended in September 2010, after lasting for nearly nine years.

    Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera's correspondent New Delhi, said: "This has been a very long drawn out process, a few men have actually died in custody waiting for this verdict.

    "It is expected that this verdict will be appealed. Families of the accused say they will take this to the Supreme Court and the Higher Court as well.

    The train fire at Godhra station in the western state of Gujarat triggered some of the worst religious violence in India since independence.

    Hindus blamed Muslims for the blaze, leading protesters to seek revenge by rampaging through Muslims neighbourhoods in three days of bloodshed.

    Muslims have always denied setting the train ablaze. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed in the violence that engulfed the state until May of that year.

    Conflicting investigations

    Tuesday's conviction supports Hindu claims that the attack on the Sabarmati Express was a planned attack. But the opposition and media have accused the state government, controlled by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of not doing enough to stop the violence and possibly even stoking it.

    In 2007, Chandrasinh Parmar, former local chief of the BJP, was sentenced to life in prison for his roles in the murder of Muslim men and the raping of Muslim women during the riots.

    A national enquiry into the fire concluded the fire was an accident, but other official investigations have differed in their findings.

    "The court has accepted the conspiracy theory. It was not an accident," special public prosecutor JM Panchal said.

    Extra police officers were on duty across Gujarat on Tuesday to prevent any outbreak of communal violence in the wake of the verdicts, and local authorities have banned television stations and newspapers from  broadcasting or printing the graphic images taken during the riots to avoid stirring up religious tensions.

    The court is expected to hand down jail sentences on Friday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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