In India, a court has convicted 23 people in connection with the killing of 23 Muslims during deadly religious riots that swept through Gujarat state in 2002. The massacre was investigated by a special team after allegations that the probe by state police was not impartial.
A special court Monday found the 23 people guilty of setting fire to a house in Gujarat’s Ode village where a group of Muslims had taken shelter to protect themselves from rioting mobs.
Twenty-three others were acquitted for lack of evidence. Most of those who stood trial are Hindus.
The massacre took place a decade ago, when towns and villages in Gujarat were convulsed with riots that targeted Muslims homes and neighborhoods. The violence erupted after a train fire, blamed on Muslims, killed 60 Hindu pilgrims and prompted retaliation by Hindu mobs.
The prosecutor, P.N. Parmar, called it a historic judgment in the mass killings in Ode village.
“Nine children, nine women and five men burnt alive in this heinous crime,” he said.
The sentences will be announced later. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the verdict.
The massacre in Ode village is one of nine incidents into which the Supreme Court has ordered a special investigation, following allegations that the Gujarat police were not impartial in their probe into the deadly riots. About 1,000 Muslims died in the violence.
This is the third judgment to be handed down in connection with the riots. In two separate judgments last year, 31 people were sentenced for burning 39 Muslims to death, while 31 Muslims were found guilty for setting fire to the train that killed the Hindu pilgrims.
Gujarat is ruled by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, has often been accused of not doing enough to stop the riots or bring the perpetrators to justice.
After Monday’s verdict, senior BJP leader Balbir Punj said justice has been handed to the riot victims.
“It is a victory for the people of Gujarat and it is a slap on the face of those people that [say] justice cannot be done in Gujarat,” said Punj.
Although the 2002 violence tarnished Narendra Modi’s image, the controversial leader remains one of BJP’s top leaders. He has won state elections in Gujarat twice since the riots and hopes to play a larger role in national politics.