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Zahira cries not guilty

Mumbai, May 9: Gujarat riot witness Zahira Sheikh and her family today pleaded not guilty to charges framed against them by a city sessions court for giving false evidence in the Best Bakery massacre case.

Judge Abhay Thipsay, who retried the case after it was transferred to Mumbai on the Supreme Court’s directive so that it would get a fair trial, ordered the perjury hearings to begin tomorrow.

Over a dozen people were killed when a mob set fire to the Vadodara bakery at the height of the 2002 communal flare-up. Zahira, who had survived the fire along with her family, had initially blamed several people for the massacre but then turned hostile, retracting her accusations more than once.

Her repeated flip-flops earned the wrath of the Supreme Court, which handed down a one-year jail term to her on March 8 for deflecting the course of justice.

Today, Zahira looked pale and nervous as she was brought to the Mazgaon Dock court from Byculla jail where she is serving the jail term.

Her mother Seherunnisa, brother Nasibullah and sister Sahira were also present in court. All of them pleaded not guilty to the perjury charges and will be tried separately.

The judge, who on February 24 convicted nine persons of the massacre, had at an earlier court appearance explained to Zahira the charges against her.

They included feigning ignorance about why the case was transferred from Gujarat and falsely stating that she had not lodged a first information report on the massacre though the FIR bore her signature.

About her mother, brother and sister, he had said they, too, made false and contradictory statements.

The family’s lawyer Umesh Deshpande said Zahira and the others face a punishment of up to three years if found guilty of perjury.

The judge rejected a petition Zahira and her family filed, requesting a stay on the perjury proceedings.

“My clients wanted to study the judgment and challenge the verdict of the Best Bakery case in Bombay High Court,” Deshpande said.

But the court said enough time has been given to the accused since the verdict was delivered on February 24.

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