All 44 CPI-M leaders and workers convicted for killing 11 landless labourers in the Nanoor area of Birbhum district in July 2000 were given rigorous life imprisonment on Thursday by the Suri additional district sessions judge.
This is the minimum punishment that the judge could have handed out as all of 44 were declared guilty of murder under section 302 of the IPC by the judge on Wednesday.
"We always respect the court's judgement. But we will appeal to higher courts and we'll give them (convicts) all legal support," said CPI-M Birbhum district secretary Dilip Ganguly.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said, "The court has borne out the truth of our contention that landless labourers who were Trinamool supporters were killed by the CPI-M. Later, the CPI-M tried to portray those killed as dacoits."
Almost all the accused told the judge they were victims of a political conspiracy. "Let a fresh probe be started and you will find that we are innocent," said Subhas Chandra Dey, one of 44 accused, who is a manager of a cooperative bank.
Prime accused and former zilla parisad member and CPI-M zonal committee member Nitya Narayan Chatterjee said," We have been victims of a political conspiracy. I was not present at the spot (during the murders)."
The judgment didn't appear to shatter the confidence of all the convicts. When they were being escorted to the prison van, some waved at their relatives and said, "We'll get bail soon."
The massacre was allegedly part of a CPI-M move to regain control of its stronghold Nanoor where support for the Trinamool began to grow in 1999.
An FIR was lodged against 81 persons, including local CPI-M leaders, hearings in the case were postponed 91 times and five judges were transferred during the trial.