Eleven Hindu men sentenced to life in prison for the gang rape of a pregnant Muslim woman during Hindu-Muslim protests in 2002 have been acquitted, officials said on Tuesday, overturning convictions by the victim’s widower, lawyers and politicians.
The men were convicted in early 2008 and released from prison in Panchmahals, in the western state of Gujarat, on Monday, as India celebrated 75 years since the end of British rule.
Violence in Gujarat, cradle of India’s worst religious riots, has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. Gujarat was ruled by the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Chief Minister, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party still rules it.
According to Reuters, the district prison’s advisory committee recommended the release of the convicts after considering the time the 11 men spent in prison on good behavior.
“The fact is that they spent almost 15 years in prison and were eligible for acquittal,” said Sujal Jayantibhai Mayatra.
Indian law allows convicts to seek remission after 14 years in prison, officials said.
Images published by the media showed a man feeding convicts sweets outside the prison after touching the feet of one of them as a sign of respect.
The victim’s widower told Reuters he was disappointed that the protests also killed many family members.
“We lost our family and we want to live in peace, but suddenly this happened,” said Yakub Rasul. “We had no prior information about their release, either from the courts or the government. We only learned about it from the media.”
Opposition politicians and lawyers said the statement contradicted the government’s policy of uplifting women in a country known for violence against women.
“The overturning of sentences for those convicted of horrific crimes such as gang rape and murder is morally and ethically inappropriate,” said attorney Anand Yagnik. “What is the message we are trying to get across?”
Source: CNN Brasil