A special court in Gujarat's Anand district on Monday held 23 people guilty of murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy in the fourth biggest massacre of the 2002 post-Godhra anti-Muslim riots in the state.
The sentences will be pronounced on Thursday. Those convicted have been charged with criminal conspiracy, murder and attempt to murder. The maximum punishment for premeditated murder is death.
Special public prosecutor PN Parmar said the court considered the killing as "the rarest of the rare".The convicted men had conspired and killed 23 Muslims, including nine children and eight women, in Ode village in Anand on March 1, 2002. The victims took shelter in a house, which was set ablaze by the rioters.
The verdict was the third of nine communal riot cases, including the Godhra train carnage that the Supreme Court had entrusted to a special investigation team (SIT). Unlike the Sardarpura massacre case, criminal conspiracy was established in the Ode carnage.
The Gujarat government, which was smarting after the apex court handed over the riot cases to the SIT following charges of partiality by the state police, welcomed the verdict.
"The verdict should silence those who have raised doubts about the impartiality and integrity of the Gujarat Police and SIT," said Gujarat government spokesperson and minister Jaynarayan Vyas.
National BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, "This is a slap for those who carried out a negative campaign about Gujarat. There has been no punishment in the 1984 riots cases."
Teesta Setalvad, secretary of NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, said the conviction was made possible by the CISF protection given to witnesses on the orders of the Supreme Court.
One such witness was Majid Miyan, who lost 13 members of his family, including his mother, said advocate Irshad Mansuri. His cousin Shafiq Mohammed lost his wife and two children.
"They are happy that justice has been done," said Mansuri.