10/27/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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107 accused of killing Muslims acquitted in Gujarat

by Nirmala Carvalho

A provincial court in this western state administered by Nationalist Hindus has let off the alleged killers of two Muslims for want of evidence. A Catholic activist said: "Despite the continued violence, no one is guilty here".

Vadodara (AsiaNews) – A provincial court of Vadodara, a city in the western state of Gujarat has acquitted 107 people accused of killing two Muslims in local clashes in 2002. The court handed down the verdict because of a lack of evidence. Neeraj Jain, defence counsel, said: "All the accused have been acquitted by the court due to lack of evidence. The court had examined 80 witnesses during the case hearing."

However, when passing sentence, the judge, A.M. Atodaria, criticized the police for not having managed to prevent the homicides: "In spite of policemen being present when the incident occurred, they could not identify the accused persons and if they had taken enough precaution the incident could have been prevented."

The incidents in question took place on 17 March 2002, in an area falling under the jurisdiction of the Makarpura public station. Munna Bhangaria and Shakir, the two victims who were of Muslim faith, were attacked by a mob while on their way to Shakir's house at Avdhoot Nagar district.  The two men were going to collect Shakir's belongings from his home that had been torched by a mob on 1 March in Vadodara.

The victims were escorted by policemen – for clear security reasons – who did not manage to prevent the attack and consequent murders. After investigating the case, the police formally charged 113 people and arrested 107 found innocent by the court.

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union and member of the National Integration Council told AsiaNews: "Gujarat continues to bring shame to the nation. The justice system in Gujarat continues to evade the scrutiny of the world, and of India's superior courts. We need to find a way to take all such cases out of Gujarat, to try them in courts which are not pressured by the heavy weight of the Sangh Parivar (politico-religious organization composed of fundamentalist Hindus – ed. note) administration.

"Given all the violence which unfolded in this state, how many have been punished? Does this mean that no one is guilty of these crimes?"

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