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Gujarat government frees Bilkis Bano convicts

Special CBI court had on January 21, 2008, sentenced 11 to life imprisonment over gang rape of woman and murder of her seven family members
Bilkis Bano.
Bilkis Bano.
File picture

PTI   |   Godhra   |   Published 16.08.22, 03:22 AM

All the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and massacre that occurred during the 2002 riots walked out of Godhra sub-jail on Monday after the Gujarat government freed them under its remission policy, an official said.

A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment over the gang rape of Bilkis and the murder of seven members of her family. Bombay High Court later upheld the conviction.

One of the convicts, who have all spent more than 15 years in jail, had approached the Supreme Court with a plea for release.

The apex court directed the Gujarat government to look into possible remission of his sentence. Following this, the state government formed a committee, said Panchmahals collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the panel.

“A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of (the sentences of) all the 11 convicts. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release,” Mayatra said.

A mob had attacked Bilkis Bano’s family at Randhikpur village in Dahod district on March 3, 2002.

Bilkis, who was five months pregnant at the time, was gang-raped. While seven members of her family were killed, six others managed to run away, the court was told. The accused were arrested in 2004.

The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis expressed fears that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.

The 2008 convictions of 11 accused were upheld in 2018 by Bombay High Court, which set aside the acquittal of seven others in the case.

One of the 11 lifers, Radheshyam Shah, later approached Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence. The high court dismissed his plea while observing that the “appropriate government” to decide his remission was Maharashtra and not Gujarat.

Shah then filed a plea in the Supreme Court pleading he had been in jail for 15 years and 4 months without remission as of April 1, 2022.

In its order of May 13, the top court stated that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, that state’s government was the appropriate government to examine Shah’s application.

Apart from Radheshyam, the convicts granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.

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