AHMEDABAD ( India) • Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for 24 Hindus convicted of playing a role in the massacre of Muslims during the Gujarat religious riots in 2002, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of the state.
Judge P. B. Desai yesterday heard submissions from the prosecution as well as lawyers representing the 24 men who were found guilty for the killings, before adjourning final sentencing until Thursday.
The men were found guilty last week of playing a role in the massacre of 69 Muslims, including a former lawmaker from the Congress party, who were hacked and burned to death as they sheltered at a residential complex in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state.
It was one of the single worst massacres during the week-long violence that altogether left more than 1,000 people dead.
Public prosecutor R. C. Kodekar told the court yesterday that several of the victims were women and children. "The crime is the rarest of the rare as the victims were hacked to death and then burned by the accused," he said.
"The victims were killed only because they belonged to the minority community. The accused had targeted innocent people, so they must get the maximum punishment prescribed by the law."
Judge Desai last week convicted 11 people of murder and another 13 men of lesser offences at the end of a trial that lasted about seven years.
However, a special court in Ahmedabad acquitted another 36 suspects, including a local leader of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The judge also ruled that the massacre at the Gulbarg Society complex was a spontaneous attack, and rejected claims that it was a pre-planned conspiracy against Muslims.
Defence lawyer Abhay Bharadwaj said the 24 men should be given minimum sentences as the judge had rejected a criminal conspiracy.
The riots have long dogged Mr Modi, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the violence.
Mr Modi, a member of the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012 after the Supreme Court ordered a probe into the matter.
The violence was triggered by the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire on Feb 27, 2002, that was initially blamed on Muslims.
More than 1,000 Muslims were killed and thousands displaced across Gujarat.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA