The Godhra verdict

A special court on Tuesday held 31 people guilty of burning the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002 and killing 59 passengers, mainly kar sevaks who were returning from Ayodhya. Additional sessions judge P R Patel acquitted 63 of the 94 accused for lack of evidence in Gujarat’s first and biggest Pota case in which 134 accused were booked under terror laws. The court upheld the conspiracy theory but freed Maulvi Hussain Umarji, a 63-year-old accused by the police of plotting the killings. Of those acquitted, 13 were already out on bail; the rest will be freed after nearly nine years in jail. The conspiracy charge almost collapsed when Umarji was declared innocent. The court convicted 31 people for murder and conspiracy, and will announce the sentences on Friday. It described the motive of the attack as the accused’s anger against kar sevaks. Those acquitted cried out in joy while the convicts anxiously listened to the judge who took some 30 minutes after walking into the courtroom. The Godhra train burning had sparked riots across the state in 2002 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. The riots were seen as revenge for the killing of kar sevaks at Godhra. The 815-page judgment convicts mainly on the basis of confessions before the magistrate, including those who retracted. Forensic evidence combined with 50 eyewitness accounts helped the court conclude that a group forced open the vestibule to get inside the coach, poured petrol and set it ablaze. Haji Bilal, Razak Kurkur, Salim Zarda, Hasan Charkha, Mehboob Latika, Jabir Behra, Irfan Bhobho and Shaukat Pataliya, who lived in Signal Falia of Godhra, were among those convicted based on statements by witnesses and accused under Section 164 of the CrPC.

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