Bilkis case convicts threatened witnesses in past, show records
At least four out of the 11 convicts in the case threatened the witnesses while out on parole, HT has found, raising more questions about the controversial remission of the convicts’ sentences earlier this week.
At least three witnesses in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case filed police complaints between 2017 and 2021 in Gujarat, alleging that at least four out of 11 convicts in the case threatened them when they were out on parole, HT has found, raising more questions about the controversial remission of the convicts’ sentences earlier this week.
One First Information Report (FIR) was filed in Dahod against two of the 11 people who walked out of Godhra Jail on Independence Day after the Gujarat government approved their remission petition under a 1992 policy, sparking widespread condemnation from legal experts and activists.
The 11 men were released after one of them, Radheshyam Shah, approached the Supreme Court in April 2022 seeking remission, arguing that they had spent over 15 years in prison in the case. Bano was 21 years old, and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence during the 2002 riots, and her three-year-old daughter was one of the seven people killed.
On July 6, 2020, Singvad resident Saberaben Patel filed a FIR in Radhikpur police station in Dahod under sections 354 (assault or criminal force with intention to outrage modesty), 504 (intimidation), 506 (2) (threat to kill) and 114 (abetment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Radheshyam Shah and Miteshbhai Bhatt. Patel said three men threatened her, Arfa and witness Pintubhai for putting them behind bars with witness statement in Bilkis Bano case. Shah and Bhatt are among the 11 convicts released this week.
HT has seen a copy of the FIR.
“There have been cross complaints in the matter where the convicts have also filed offences under similar sections of the IPC against the applicant, Patel. The trials are going on at a court in Limkheda and witnesses have been cross examined,” said Vajesinh Labana, a lawyer representing Patel.
Similarly, Mansuri Abdul Razzaq Abdul Majid filed a police complaint with Dahod police against Sailesh Chimmanlal Bhatt on January 1, 2021. The complainant alleged that Majid received threats from the convict that day and stated that he was protected by State Reserve Police (SRP) in the past. But for the past two years, the protection had been taken away and now Majid feared threat to his life if the accused was released on parole. In his complaint, Majid appealed that Bhatt be sent back to jail. HT has seen a copy of the complaint.
In another complaint filed by Ghanchi Adambhai Ismailbhai and Ghanchi Imtiazbhai Yusufbhai against Govind Nai on July 30, 2017, the applicants alleged that the accused tried to threaten them to reach a compromise, failing which they would lose their lives. HT has seen a copy of the complaint.
There are 23 witnesses in the case and some of them have complained that they received threats in the past, according to Razzak Bariya, a witness in the case who resides in Devgadh Bariya.
A senior state government official said no such instances of complaints against convicts while on parole were present in the remission report. “The police and the jail advisory committee have looked into their conduct and after finding it satisfactory, the decision to release them was taken,” the official, who was not willing to be named, said.
Panchmahal district collector Sujal Mayatra and Dahod superintendent of police Balram Meena did not respond to phone calls.
The 11 people released include Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana. None of accused were available for comment.
HT found that police complaints of intimidation and threats were filed against at least three of them.
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai in January 2008 sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder. The conviction was later upheld by the Bombay high court.
Shah approached the Gujarat high court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The court turned down his plea stating that the appropriate government to decide his remission was Maharashtra and not Gujarat as the case was tried out of Gujarat. He then approached the apex court. In its order dated May 13, the Supreme Court stated that as the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine Shah’s application.
Asked what factors led to the decision to grant them remission, Raj Kumar, additional chief secretary(home), told HT earlier, “The remission of the 11 convicts was considered after taking various factors like life imprisonment term in India which is typically of 14 years or more, age, behaviour of the person and so on. The remittance application was considered on merit. It is also under the domain of the state government.”
In January 2014, the home department of Gujarat issued a fresh policy for considering the cases of “State Remission and Premature Release of Prisoners” which said that a certain class of prisoners “shall not” be granted premature release. This included cases investigated by the CBI, prisoners sentenced for group murder of two or more persons, and “prisoners convicted for murder with gang-rape.”
After the men were released, Bano said in a statement that the decision had shaken her faith in justice, leaving her numb and speechless. She said that no one enquired about her safety and well-being before taking such a decision and appealed to the Gujarat government to reverse its move. The Opposition has accused the government of breaking rules but the administration insists that due process was followed.
Controversy has also been courted by the jail advisory committee set up by the Gujarat government. The committee was chaired by Sujal Mayatra, the district magistrate of Panchmahal, where Shah and the others were lodged in Godhra jail. The other nine members included two lawmakers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- CK Raulji from Godhra and Sumanben Chauhan who represents the neighbouring Kalol constituency.
“It took us about two months to prepare a report that was submitted to the state government. Various parameters like gravity of the crime, age of convict, total tenure in jail, how many times the convict has been given parole, his conduct outside and inside the jail,” Mayatra told HT earlier.
In a tweet on Friday, Congress MLA Gyasuddin Shaikh from Dariapur constituency in Ahmedabad said he, and two other Congress legislators Imran Khedawala and Javed Pirzada, have written to President Droupadi Murmu, seeking her intervention and to ensure the government reverses its decision of early release of the 11 convicts.