NEW DELHI – The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the appeals of the accused who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Godhra train burning case in Gujarat which was used to orchestrate 2002 communal riots in Gujarat .
The accused were charged with burning alive 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya by the Sabarmati train on February 27, 2002.
The two-member bench of Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice K V Viswanathan ordered the lawyers of the parties to submit their response within four weeks. Following the submission, a date for the final hearing will be set.
The appeals were filed on behalf of the 31 accused who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Gujarat High Court through the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Legal Aid Committee.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which provides legal aid to the accused, will enlist the services of eminent criminal lawyers of the country to fight for the acquittal of the accused, said the Muslim body president Maulana Arshad Madani.
Responding to the development, Maulana Madani stated: “Our legal action will continue until the innocents are acquitted.” He expressed confidence that the accused will receive full justice from the High Court, with the support of the prominent criminal lawyers. Maulana Madani highlighted past cases where lower courts had given severe punishments, but the accused found relief in the Supreme Court. He cited the example of Mufti Abdul Qayyum and his associates in the Akshar Dham temple attack case, where the Supreme Court acquitted all the accused and criticized the Gujarat Police for implicating innocent people on false terrorism charges.
The Godhra case involves the arrest of 94 Muslim youth under charges of murder, attempt to murder, and criminal conspiracy.
The lower court acquitted 63 accused due to lack of evidence, while 20 were sentenced to life imprisonment and 11 to death.
In October 2017, the Gujarat High Court upheld the life sentences but commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment.
However, the top court will also consider the appeals filed by the Gujarat government seeking an increase in their sentences.
The final appeals in the case will be heard by the apex court next month. The accused have been in jail for 21 years. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind expressed hope that the SC will provide relief to the accused persons.