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India: Special Courts to Try Riot Cases

(May 5, 2009) Five special fast-track courts will be set up to try cases resulting from riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. The events had resulted in numerous deaths – estimates range from 1,000 to 2,500 people, most of them Muslims – following a train fire in which 60 Hindus perished. Some Hindu groups have claimed that the fire was not accidental, as an early investigation concluded, but instead was started by Muslim protestors.

The courts, whose establishment was ordered by India's Supreme Court on May 1, 2009, will be in five separate districts within Gujarat, despite the desire of the National Human Rights Commission and rights activists that the trial be held entirely outside of the state. There have been accusations of witness intimidation in the riot cases; the Supreme Court has requested police protection for witnesses and ordered quarterly progress reports on the trials. In 2003, a court in Gujarat acquitted 21 people in one riot-related case that concerned the deaths of 14 people; in 2004 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in that case, and 2006, nine people were convicted and received life sentences for the killings.

The Supreme Court has also taken actions showing its concern that Gujarat's government has not adequately protected Muslim citizens. On April 28, 2009, the Court, acting on a petition filed by the widow of Ehsan Jafri, a Muslim political leader who was murdered, ordered an investigation into the role of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a leading member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The investigation will focus on nine cases, including Jafri's. Modi was exonerated by a commission established within Gujarat last year, but has been accused of ignoring the violence. (Special Courts for Gujarat Riots, BBC NEWS, May 1, 2009, available at
; Special Courts to Try India's 2002 Religious Riots, REUTERS, May 1, 2009, available at