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India court convicts 31 for crimes during Gujarat riots

A trial court in the West Indian state of Gujarat [official website] on Wednesday convicted 31 people of crimes committed during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The guilty were convicted [BBC report] of murder, arson and rioting while charges criminal conspiracy were dropped by the court. All 31 of the convicted were sentenced to life in prison and required to pay a fine. The court acquitted 42 other defendants. The riots stemmed [Times of India report] from anger over the death of 60 Hindus in a fire aboard a train. As a result of the casualties, riots broke out in Gujarat targeting Muslims who were blamed for starting the fire. The riots lasted three days and when they were over, more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were dead. Teesta Setalvad, an activist working on behalf of the riot victims said welcomed the sentences but expressed disappointment that the investigation team did not into the issue of conspiracy to riot. She said that she would speak to the victims' families about possible appeals in regards to those who were acquitted.

The trial comes two years after the National Human Rights Commission [official website] filed a case with the Supreme Court in which it took issue [press release] with the lack of prosecution in the case. The Supreme Court ordered [decision, PDF] an investigation into the conduct of the trial as well as the protection of witnesses. In 2004 Human Rights Watch [official website] issued a report [finding, PDF] urging witness protection for those involved in the case after allegations [JURIST report] of threats and pressure from the state arose.

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