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Central & South Asia
Death penalty for India train blaze
Eleven people sentenced to death for arson in Gujarat state that killed 59 pilgrims in 2002 and led to religious riots.
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2011 10:26 GMT

 

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed following the 2002 Godhra train blaze in Gujarat [AFP]

An Indian court has sentenced 11 people to death for setting a train on fire in 2002, an incident that killed more than 50 people and sparked some of the country's worst religious rioting.

The ruling on Tuesday comes a week after 31 Muslims were found guilty on conspiracy and murder charges related to the train fire in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat.

The other 20 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment, JM Panchal, the special public prosecutor, said.

He said the judge felt the crimes fell "under the category of the rarest of the rare".

"There was an active role, as far as these people are concerned, in the conspiracy and also setting fire to the coach," he said.

The death sentences must be confirmed by a higher court, and all of those convicted have 90 days to appeal their sentence.

Hindu backlash

The train fire, which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims, sparked an anti-Muslim backlash that saw Hindu mobs rampaging through Muslim neighbourhoods in three days of fighting, which left more than 1,000 people dead.

Although Hindus blamed Muslims for the fire, Muslims have always denied setting the train ablaze.

The state government, which has been controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused by the opposition and sections of the media of not doing enough to stop the violence and of even stoking it.

Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister and a prominent member of the BJP, was accused of failing to stop the riots, and even of encouraging them.

Gujarat officials have denied the claims.

Last month an Indian supreme court panel criticised Modi for his "partisan" handling of the unrest, but found no evidence to justify criminal prosecution of him.

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

A total of 94 people, all Muslims, had stood trial at the court in Gujarat's biggest city, Ahmedabad, in a case that lasted nearly nine years. They had been detained since 2002. The judge acquitted 63 of them last week.

Source:
Agencies
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