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New Gujarat riot trial urged - BBC, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    New Gujarat riot trial urged http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3052276.stm Two key witnesses in the trial of 21 Hindus acquitted of burning 12
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2003
      New Gujarat riot trial urged

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3052276.stm


      Two key witnesses in the trial of 21 Hindus acquitted
      of burning 12 Muslims to death during riots in Gujarat
      say politicians pressured them into retracting their
      statements.
      Sehrunissa Sheikh and her daughter Zahira, 19, on
      Monday called for a new trial.

      Zahira Sheikh said she had lied in court following
      threats from the western Indian state's ruling Hindu
      nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

      The call for a new trial came as fact-finders from the
      National Human Rights Commission arrived in Gujarat to
      investigate what it has called a "miscarriage of
      justice".

      Ms Sheikh said: "I want to reopen the case and want
      justice for myself and my family members who were
      burnt to death during the riots on 1 March, 2002".

      The 12 Muslims were burned alive when they took refuge
      in a bakery near the city of Baroda.

      The attack happened during riots sparked by the
      torching of a train carrying Hindu activists a month
      earlier.

      Ms Sheikh said she wanted a fresh trial in Bombay
      (Mumbai) because she did not trust the Gujarat legal
      system.

      The Hindus were acquitted last month at a court in
      Vadodara, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of
      Ahmedabad, Gujarat's capital.

      Secret location

      Ms Sheikh said she had retracted her statement because
      she feared for her life.

      "I had no choice but to lie. But now I have realised
      that I should get justice because my integrity is
      being questioned."

      During the trial, Ms Sheikh changed her story to say
      she was hiding in a room above the bakery and did not
      see the attackers' faces.

      She now says she knew the men.

      "I gave the names of the criminals who did it but the
      police did not catch them. I now want justice," she
      said.

      A social group, the Citizens Forum for Peace and
      Justice, is backing Ms Sheikh's call for a Bombay
      trial.

      Forum secretary Teesta Setalvad said it would soon
      file a petition for retrial outside of Gujarat.

      She said the two witnesses would be kept in a secret
      location.

      Tough task

      A total of 35 of the 73 witnesses in the Gujarat trial
      retracted in court the statements they had given to
      police identifying the attackers.

      Several of those now say they were also forced into
      the retractions.

      Members of the National Human Rights Commission
      arrived in Ahmedabad on Monday to check legal
      documents on the case.

      One commission member, social worker Gagan Sethi said
      the team would also interview people in Baroda related
      to the case.

      The commission will not have an easy task. Advocates
      in Baroda have already filed a contempt of court
      petition against it for using the words "miscarriage
      of justice".

      Legal analysts say also that the state government
      would have to file an appeal against the verdict, an
      action it has shown no sign of taking.

      Many rights activists feel that the best that can be
      achieved now is to stop other cases related to the
      riots falling apart.

      Between 1,000 and 2,000 people, most of them Muslims,
      were killed in three months of religious violence
      across the state that followed the torching of 58
      Hindus on a train in Godhra.


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