India's top court to hear petition reversing release of gang-rape convicts

Members of NGOs protest against the decision to release 11 men convicted of a gang-rape in Gujarat in 2002. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on a petition challenging the release last week of 11 men convicted of gang-raping a pregnant Muslim woman during Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat.

Dozens of women in Mumbai protested on Tuesday against their release and carried placards demanding justice for the victim, who said last week she had not been told the men would be freed and that it had shaken her faith in justice.

Her three-year-old daughter was among those killed during one of India’s worst religious riots. More than 1,000 people died during the violence, most of them Muslims.  

The petition has been brought by a group of women including Ms Subhashini Ali, a politician and member of the Communist Party of India; Ms Revati Laul, an independent journalist; and Ms Mahua Moitra, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Trinamool Congress Party, attorney Kapil Sibal said. 

Mr Sibal told Reuters the court had agreed to hear their Public Interest Litigation petition demanding the men serve their full life sentences. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

Critics contend that freeing the convicts contradicts the government’s stated policy of supporting women in a country with numerous, well-documented instances of violence against them.  

Authorities in the Panchmahals district of Gujarat released the men last Monday after considering the time they had served after their conviction in 2008 and their behaviour while jailed.  

A senior Gujarat state official overseeing the release said the convicts had completed 14 years in jail and were allowed free after the Supreme Court directed authorities to consider their plea for leniency under a 1992 remission policy.  

The months-long riots were triggered after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire. Hindus accused Muslims of setting the fire in which 59 pilgrims died, but Muslims said the train attack was part of a conspiracy to target their community.  

Several Muslims were convicted for the attack on the train.  

Current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time of the riots and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party continues to rule the state. 

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