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February 19, 2020
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted interim bail to 14 persons sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 23 people in a Gujarat riots case of 2002, provided they keep aside six hours a week to engage themselves in “spiritual and social service”.A Bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde said they could participate in seminars. The bail would continue until the court decides their appeals against conviction.These convicts, some of them represented by advocate Astha Sharma, should not enter Gujarat. Ms. Sharma said the appeals were filed in the Ode massacre case. The top court has not published the order copy yet on its official website.The Bench found that these people were convicted on the basis of the testimonies of one or two witnesses.

The court separated the appellants/convicts into two groups of six and eight. Six of them were convicted on the basis of testimony of one witness and eight on the accounts given by two witnesses. The former would remain in Indore and the latter group of eight men would stay on in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.The Bench acknowledged the submission made by Ms. Sharma that these men had been released on parole, furlough, etc., and not committed any crime. They had also returned to custody.HC rulingThe Gujarat High Court had upheld the conviction of a total of 19 persons in the Ode massacre case.Twenty-three persons of a minority community were killed by rioters at Ode village in Anand district in central Gujarat.The May 11, 2018 Gujarat High Court judgment of a Bench, led by Justice Akil Kureshi, narrated in detail the series of incidents which led to the deaths of the 23 victims.On February 27 of 2002, the infamous Godhra train burning incident happened. A few days later, on March 1, an agitated mob collected in the surrounding fields and entered residential areas which had “pockets of Muslim houses and shops.” The mob started pelting stones and damaging property. The police could not control the rioters. The mob then surrounded seven houses where Muslim families lived and set them on fire by throwing burning rags at them.Many of the people first tried to take shelter at a nearby three-storied building. However, many ran out, while 23 of them stayed back to meet a “gruesome fate”.“According to the prosecution, all of them were burnt alive. The heat was such that they were burnt to ashes. In fact, the raging fire demolished the three-storied building and turned it into rubble,” the High Court had noted in the judgment.“We have seen senselessness of violence and loss of innocent human lives. We cannot imagine the pain suffered by the victims who perished in the raging fire. We cannot judge the depth of sorrow and despair of their families… This phenomena which we often describe as communal frenzy turn perfectly normal human beings momentarily into murderous monsters leaving nothing but a trail of death and destruction for the victims and his own family alike,” the court had observed.

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