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HC sets free massacre 26

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OUR CORRESPONDENT Published 10.10.13, 12:00 AM

Patna, Oct. 9: The high court today acquitted all 26 accused in the 1997 massacre of 58 people at Laxmanpur Bathe village for want of evidence.

A lower court in Patna had found the 26 persons, all said to be members of the now-disbanded Ranvir Sena militia outfit of upper caste landowners, guilty of the carnage. As many as 16 of them were awarded the death sentence, while 10 were handed out life terms in prison.

But Patna High Court today set aside the verdict and gave the benefit of doubt to the 26 accused. The division bench of Justice V.N. Sinha and Justice A.K. Lal maintained there was not a single person who had witnessed the massacre. The court also stated that the prosecution had not produced any evidence that warranted capital punishment or even life imprisonment. It observed that the prosecution had failed to gather evidence in an “impartial and speedy manner”.        

“We are of the view that the prosecution witnesses are not reliable and so all the convicted persons are entitled to benefit of doubt,” the bench said and directed that all the convicted persons be released forthwith. The order was passed on appeals filed by the 26 persons after they were convicted by the additional district & sessions judge, Patna, Vijay Kumar Mishra in April 2010.

The acquittal is yet another setback for the prosecution fighting the cases of carnage. All the accused persons in the massacre of 28 Dalits at Bathani Tola village in Bhojpur district were acquitted by the high court for the same reason. Several accused persons in other massacre cases too have been set free because of lack of evidence.

In the Laxmanpur Bathe case, the police had filed a chargesheet against 46 persons 11 years after the massacre. In the lower court, the number of prosecution witnesses was 117, while the defence produced 152 witnesses. Initially, the case was heard in the Jehanabad court. But in 1999, the high court transferred the case to the additional district and sessions court in Patna.

Advocate-general Ram Balak Mahto said today’s judgment would be studied and legal opinion sought before the government decides on whether to appeal against the ruling.

On the night of December 1, 1997, 58 men, women and children — all Dalits — were gunned down by suspected Ranvir Sena activists at Laxmanpur Bathe village located on the banks of the river Sone in Arwal district, about 60km from Patna.

Around 100 armed gunmen had crossed the Sone, entered the village and shot dead the inhabitants, sparing no one in the three-hour firing spree. Among those dead were 27 women and 16 children.

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