Outrage over failure to convict Gujarat ring-leaders

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The Independent Online

More than a year after at least 2,000 people were killed in the Gujarat massacres, the ring-leaders are still free and there have been no convictions, a human rights group said yesterday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused authorities in the western Indian state of sabotaging investigations, squandering evidence and failing to prosecute those responsible for some of the worst atrocities.

Indian officials claimed they had arrested thousands soon after the orchestrated bloodshed in February and March last year, which began with the killing of at least 58 Hindu activists when their train was set on fire by a Muslim mob. This was followed by weeks of attacks by Hindus against Muslims.

But Human Rights Watch said Gujarat authorities had since handled the issue "appallingly", routinely reducing murder and rape charges to rioting, and arbitrarily freeing or acquitting suspects. "Most cases are languishing because of the state's failure to arrest and charge those most responsible for the violence," the report said. "Many have already been dismissed because of the prosecution's failure to collect and record evidence."

The report was issued days after a state court acquitted 21 people accused of burning to death 12 Muslims in a Gujarat bakery in the communal violence.

The acquittals have hardened the view among human rights groups and Indian's liberal intelligentsia that there is no chance that the perpetrators - who include police and state officials - will be called to account.

Human Rights Watch urged India's federal government yesterday to intervene in cases where state officials had tried to sabotage the outcome. It said Muslims had faced biased prosecutors and judges and their lawyers had been threatened.

The report said Hindu nationalist groups were arming civilians in Gujarat and other states. "Potentially explosive'' election campaigns were under way in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.