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Star witness Zahira in trouble

ALMOST FOUR years after a rampaging mob set alight the Best Bakery in Vadodara during the post-Godhra riots and killed 14 people, a special court in Mumbai on Friday pronounced nine of the 21 accused guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 12:33 IST

ALMOST FOUR years after a rampaging mob set alight the Best Bakery in Vadodara during the post-Godhra riots and killed 14 people, a special court in Mumbai on Friday pronounced nine of the 21 accused guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Additional sessions judge A.M. Thipsay acquitted eight accused since the prosecution failed to prove its charges against them.

In June 2003, all the 21 accused had been set free by a Vadodara sessions court in the first trial for lack of evidence. Later, after the Gujarat HC upheld the lower court's verdict, the Supreme Court had ordered a re-trial in Maharashtra. Seventeen of the 21 accused faced charges in the Mumbai re-trial as the rest are untraceable.

Both the trial and the re-trial were marked by witnesses turning hostile. On Friday, the court issued notices to Zahira Sheikh, the prime witness, her mother Sehrunissa, sister Saira and brothers Nafitullah and Nasibullah, asking them to show cause why they should not be prosecuted for perjury (lying under oath). What turned the tables in the Mumbai re-trial were the testimonies of five key eye-witnesses who were not examined in the Vadodara court.

Yasmin Bano, Zahira's sister-in-law, was the only member of the Sheikh family to support the prosecution. Other eye-witnesses who were not examined in Vadodara but testified in Mumbai were the workers at the bakery who were injured when it was torched.

In the re-trial, the prosecution managed to procure convictions on the basis of the same charge-sheet that was filed before the Vadodara court.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 12:33 IST