Ahmedabad, Oct. 16: In the first conviction in Gujarat riot cases, a fast-track court today sentenced four persons to life imprisonment in the Lal Akhada murder case.
Additional sessions judge C.K. Solanki, however, acquitted former Vadodara deputy mayor and sitting municipal councillor Nisar Hussain Sayed and his driver, Maruf Hussain Sayed, for lack of evidence. The former mayor, who resigned from the Congress in 1995, and his driver were charged with conspiring to kill Pankaj Chauhan on March 22, 2002.
However, the judge sentenced the Independent councillor’s son, Abid Hussain Nisar Hussain Sayed, and brother-in-law Akram Ahmed Sheikh. The others convicted for the death of the 22-year-old from Rajasthan are Mohammed alias Lal Mohammed Dudhwala and Atif alias Bekhabar Sheikh.
Chauhan was passing through Reshamwali Gali in Lal Akhada area of Vadodara in an autorickshaw when the four stabbed him to death. His body was found with multiple injuries.
Cases were registered against the accused, including the former deputy mayor. While the others were arrested the day Chauhan was murdered, Nisar Hussain Sayed surrendered before the police after six months.
The four who have been convicted, under sections 302, 120(B), 114 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, have decided to challenge the judgment — the second, after the Best Bakery case, regarding post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat — in the high court.
The councillor has asserted that he will challenge the order sentencing his son. “I will challenge the judgment in the high court,” he said in Vadodara.
Public prosecutor Bhumika Trivedi has, on the other hand, said the government will consider moving the high court to challenge Nisar Hussain Sayed’s acquittal.
The court witnessed chaotic scenes with family members of the accused protesting the sentencing of “four innocent” persons to life imprisonment. The protestors also damaged furniture and even journalists covering the court proceedings had to face their wrath. The chaos forced the judge to leave after pronouncing an oral judgement.
The relatives of the accused — mostly women — pointed out that all 21 accused in the Best Bakery case, in which most of the witnesses had turned hostile, were acquitted.
In the Lal Akhada case, where 10 out of the 23 witnesses examined had turned hostile, four persons were sentenced only because they were Muslims.
One of the witnesses who had turned hostile in the Lal Akhada case is police constable Dilipsinh, who had earlier said he had seen the councillor and his driver fleeing the scene in a car. Dilipsinh later maintained that he had never made any such statement. The police officer was subsequently suspended.
Tension had been building up in the city since morning. The public prosecutor was gheroaed by the relatives of the accused and had to be escorted to her office. Trivedi has now been provided police protection.