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India court sentences 11 to death over train fire that sparked riots

A special court in India sentenced 11 Muslims to death Tuesday in connection with the Godhra train burning in 2002 that killed 59 Hindu nationalists and started the 2002 Gujarat riots [BBC backgrounder]. Special judge PR Patel handed down death sentences [Indian Express report] for 11 of 31 convicted last week under the India Penal Code for murder, attempted murder and/or criminal conspiracy. The remaining 20 all received sentences of life imprisonment, and 63 others were acquitted. The convictions were for setting on fire the S6 coach of Sabarmati Express killing 59 people, mostly Vishwa Hindu Parishad members, returning from Ayodhya. The incident triggered riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,200 people were killed, mostly Muslims, in some of the worst violence between Hindus and Muslims in India since gaining independence in 1947. The prosecution had sought the death penalty for all 31 convicted. The defense plans to appeal [Times of India report] the death sentences and is prepared to take the matter to India's highest court.

In May 2009, the Supreme Court of India [official website] ordered the formation [JURIST report] of five special courts to hear cases stemming from the riots. The court did not move the cases outside of Gujarat however, as the National Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] had requested [press release], instead ordering [Times of India report] that the courts be set up in the Ahmedabad, Anand, Sabarkanta, Gulbarga and Mehsana districts. In 2003, 12 Hindus were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for connection with murders occurring during religious riots in Gujarat. Violence between Muslims and Hindus in India has not subsided. Last week, the Bombay High Court [official website] upheld the conviction and death sentence [JURIST report] of Pakistani national Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab [NDTV profile], the only surviving gunman of the three-day siege of Mumbai [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that killed 166 in November 2008.

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