The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress and rival gun for rights panel

Ahmedabad, July 9: The Congress and the BJP have joined hands in slamming the National Human Rights Commission and the media for questioning the verdict of a trial court that set free all the accused in the Best Bakery massacre case.

Senior Congress leader and president of the Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association Yatin Oza criticised the rights panel for casting doubts on the integrity of the court.

At a meeting today, the association passed a strongly-worded resolution that threatened to file a contempt of court case against the rights panel. The association condemned both the commission and the media for “interfering in the judicial process pertaining to the… case”.

The association asked the panel and the media to stop taking recourse to “populist measures” by making wild allegations.

The criticism comes in the wake of the rights commission’s visit to Vadodara earlier this week to collect material related to the case. Earlier, commission chairman A.S. Anand had termed the court verdict a “miscarriage of justice”.

The observation came after the June 27 acquittals that followed the refusal of the main witness — Zahira Sheikh — to identify the 21 accused of burning to death 14 people at the Vadodara bakery last March. Her father, who owned the bakery, was among the dead.

Zahira, however, retracted her court statement at a recent news conference in Mumbai and said she was forced to turn hostile in court. She has charged BJP MLA Madhu Srivastava and Congress corporator Chandrakant Srivastava with working in tandem while threatening witnesses.

Asked if the Congress had come together with the BJP on this issue, Oza said: “It is not a question of the Congress and the BJP joining hands, but a far greater issue of protecting the independence of the judiciary.

“Judgments are delivered on the basis of evidence and the NHRC chairman has no business commenting on the validity of the judgment. If the family members of the victims have any grievances, they can approach the high court for redressal.”

In Mumbai, Javed Anand of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, the NGO supporting Zahira, said the association’s comments showed how far lawyers’ bodies in Gujarat were divided along communal lines.

“The bars are aggressively pro-Hindu. During the riots last year, Hindu lawyers had broken the chairs of their Muslim colleagues,” he added.

Lawyer Mihir Desai, who has taken up Zahira’s case, said: “This is why we don’t want a retrial in Gujarat. Such statements show the mindset Zahira would be up against.”

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