A special trial court in Gujarat's Himmatnagar on Friday acquitted 6 people accused of killing 4 men, including 3 British citizens, during the 2002 riots in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning.
The court held that the prosecution could not prove the case against the accused who were implicated in the case. The case was tried in the court of principal district judge of Sabarkantha IC Shah.
This was one of the 9 Gujarat riot cases which was investigated by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court in 2008. The team was headed by the former CBI director RK Raghavan.
The Supreme Court started monitoring the progress of 9 cases from the post-Godhra riots period - Prantij, Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaam, Ode village (two cases), Dipda Darwaja, Sardarpura and Godhra - after the National Human Rights Commission and various NGOs termed the investigation as shoddy and unreliable.
Interestingly, this is the first case handled by the SIT in which all accused have been acquitted. Earlier in Sardarpura, Ode village and Naroda Patiya massacre cases, over 100 persons, including former minister Maya Kodnani, were convicted by the trial courts. Kodnani is out on bail.
The six accused were facing charges of murder, rioting, arson and other offences.
A day after the Godhra train burning incident, on February 28, 2002 British national Imran Dawood and his UK-based uncles, Saeed Dawood and Mohammad Aswat, were allegedly attacked by a mob on the national highway near Prantij in north Gujarat.
They were in India for a visit and were returning to their native village in south Gujarat from a trip to Agra and Jaipur when their car was allegedly attacked by a mob. The car was set on fire and Saeed, Shakeel, Aswat and their driver Yusuf Piraghar, a local, were allegedly burnt alive by the mob. Imran managed to save himself with the help of the police.
After the incident, Imran filed an FIR and returned to the UK. Six persons were arrested by the police and charged by the SIT with the killing of the 4 men, including the 3 Indian-origin Britons.
During the protracted judicial proceedings, the prosecution had examined 81 witnesses, including the two senior officials of the British high commission posted in India at the time of the incident. Their deposition was recorded by the trial court through video conference using internet-based communication channel Skype.
Imran too had recorded his statement to the police via video conferencing in 2010. However, some witnesses in the case had turned hostile during the course of trial.
A spokesperson of the high commission in Mumbai told HT that "it has noted the court verdict."
The killings of British nationals had hit headlines in the UK, which had boycotted the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for several years.
In 2005, after he was denied visa by the US Modi had to cancel his visit to London because some rights groups had planned a massive protest march at the venue he was supposed to visit. Citing the security concerns, the Gujarat government had cancelled the visit.
(With PTI inputs)