India court convicts 32 in 2002 religious riots

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Associated Press

Posted on August 29, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 29 at 6:01 AM

AHMADABAD, India (AP) — A court in western India found 32 people, including a former state government minister, guilty Wednesday of charges ranging from murder to rioting for their part in deadly religious violence in 2002.

Those convicted included Maya Kodnani, a state legislator at the time who later became minister of education and child welfare in the western Gujarat state government. She was arrested in 2009 on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy and has been in prison since.

The court, which acquitted 29 others, did not immediately announce the sentences or what each person was convicted of.

The religious violence was among India's worst since its independence from Britain in 1947. It began following a train fire on Feb. 27, 2002, that killed 60 Hindu pilgrims. Muslims were blamed for the fire, leading to weeks of rioting in which Hindu mobs rampaged through towns and villages burning Muslim homes and businesses.

More than 1,100 people, almost all Muslim, were killed or went missing and thousands more were left homeless.

Rights groups and survivors have accused the state government, controlled by the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, of not doing enough to stop the violence and even stoking it.

Wednesday's convictions were for murders and rioting in Naroda Patiya, a small industrial town on the outskirts of Ahmadabad, Gujarat's main city. The riots in that area — left 95 people dead — were some of the worst.

The convictions were not the first linked to the rioting.

In July, a special court found 21 people guilty for the murders of 11 members of a Muslim family in the town of Visnagar and sentenced them to life in prison.

Last November, 31 Hindus were sentenced by the same court to life imprisonment for killing dozens of Muslims by setting a building on fire in the state's Mehsana district.

The courts are expected to issue verdicts in six other cases within a year.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's billion people, and Muslims have been largely peaceful since independence, but there have been sporadic bouts of violence.

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