Indian court commutes death sentences in Godhra train case


NEW DELHI: An Indian court jailed 11 men for life on Monday, for setting fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in 2002, which sparked the country’s worst religious riots in decades, a lawyer said. The men had been handed the death penalty for the attack in the western state of Gujarat, governed at the time by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but a high court commuted the sentences, saying it was not a “terrorist act”.
The killing of the 59 pilgrims, while the train stopped at Godhra, a station about 120 km distant from the state capital of Gandhinagar, led to attacks on minority Muslims in which more than 2,500 people were killed, activists say.
Modi, the state’s chief minister at the time, faced allegations of turning a blind eye to the attacks on Muslims, but a court-appointed investigation panel absolved him of responsibility.
“The death sentence for 11 has been changed to life imprisonment,” said J. M. Panchal, the special prosecutor in the attack case, but added that the Gujarat high court had rejected appeals by 20 men who received life terms from a lower court.
The high court also ordered the state government and railway authorities to pay compensation of 1 million rupees ($15,385) to the family of each person killed in the train fire.”The court has commuted the death sentences for 11 convicted to life imprisonment,” public prosecutor Eknath Ahuja said after the appeal hearing.
The court upheld life imprisonment for 20 others convicted in the case, he said.
Yusuf Hoka, a relative of one of the convicts who had their sentence commuted, expressed relief following the court order.