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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Fresh trial for Gujarat riot case
Best Bakery after attack (Photo Sabrang Communications)
The Muslims were burnt alive inside the bakery
India's Supreme Court has ordered a retrial of a riot case in which 12 Muslims were burned to death by a Hindu mob two years ago in Gujarat state.

It ruled the new trial must take place in neighbouring Maharashtra state and called for a fresh investigation.

Twenty-one Hindus were acquitted of killing the Muslims last June when many witnesses withdrew their evidence.

The Supreme Court said the first court was "indifferent to the sacrilege being committed to justice".

The public prosecutor appears to have acted more as a defence counsel
Supreme Court ruling

Known as the Best Bakery case after the bakery in the city of Baroda where the Muslims were killed, it was often cited by human rights groups as evidence that victims of the Gujarat riots had gained little justice.

More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots, which took place after a suspected Muslim mob attacked a train, killing nearly 60 Hindu passengers.

'Victory for justice'

Monday's historic judgement came during the hearing of a petition filed by a key witness, Zahira Sheikh, some of whose family owned and ran the bakery, and were among the dead.

The Supreme Court reviewed the case after Ms Sheikh admitted lying in court and not testifying against the accused because she said she had been threatened by senior figures in the local organisation of the state's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Several other prosecution witnesses also withdrew their evidence, leading to the acquittal of the 21 Hindus.

Zahira Sheikh (Photo Sabrang Communications)
Zahira Sheikh alleged she was threatened

The ruling was sharply criticised by India's Human Rights Commission, which also demanded the case be retried.

Monday's Supreme Court ruling said: "The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning and were probably deliberating on how the perpetrators of the crime could be saved or protected."

It continued: "The public prosecutor appears to have acted more as a defence counsel than one whose duty was to present the truth before the court.

"The court in turn appeared to be a silent spectator, mute to the manipulations and preferred to be indifferent to the sacrilege being committed to justice."

The riots deeply divided Hindus and Muslims living in Gujarat and left a deep scar on the Muslim minority, many of whom still say they live in fear.

Opposition parties immediately renewed demands for the dismissal of the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, following the Supreme Court ruling.

However, the BJP said there was no need for him to step down.

A lawyer for Ms Sheikh said the judgement was "a victory for justice, secularism and the Indian constitution".

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