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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 13:58 GMT
Gujarat riot witness backtracks
Twelve Muslims were burned alive in Baroda's Best Bakery Photo Sabrang Communications)
The Muslims were burned alive in Baroda's Best Bakery
A key trial concerning the Hindu-Muslim riots in India's Gujarat state in 2002 has been thrown into further disarray after another witness backtracked.

The witness contradicted previous statements and now says he fainted and cannot identify any defendants.

The Best Bakery case centres on claims a Hindu mob killed 12 Muslims and two others when they set a bakery on fire.

This hearing is a retrial - the first collapsed when witnesses retracted evidence and 21 defendants were freed.

It was dark and there was thick smoke... How could I recognise anyone?
Nasibullah Sheikh
More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed during the Gujarat riots.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says Thursday's dramatic developments represent a further setback to the prosecution case, which was seriously weakened last week when key witness Zahira Sheikh backtracked on earlier statements.

Our correspondent says the retractions also undermine the Supreme Court's move to press for justice for the many victims of the 2002 riots.


On Thursday, witness Nasibullah told the court in Maharashtra's state capital Mumbai (Bombay) that he had fainted following the attack and did not know what happened.

His statement contradicted one he gave to Gujarat police soon after the attack and he refused to identify the 17 men who are in court facing charges in the retrial. The other four from the first trial have absconded.

Zahira Sheikh (Photo Sabrang Communications)
Zahira Sheikh says she made false statements under pressure

Mr Nasibullah is one of two brothers of Zahira Sheikh. The BBC's Zubair Ahmed in Mumbai says the other brother, Nafiullah, will be next to testify.

In the first trial, Ms Sheikh was one of several Muslim witnesses who were expected to testify against 21 Hindus accused of attacking the bakery in the town of Baroda.

But in court the witnesses all retracted earlier statements to the police, saying they did not recognise the accused.

Ms Sheikh later said she had lied in court because she had been threatened with her life by leading members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat if she testified against the Hindus.

India's Supreme Court ordered a retrial in Mumbai after heavily chastising the judicial authorities in Gujarat for their handling of cases arising out of the riots.

Gujarat religious riots
The riots left more than 1,000 people dead - mostly Muslims

But last week, Ms Sheikh again changed her story, saying a human rights group had threatened her into making false statements to the Supreme Court.

However, her sister-in-law, Yasmin Sheikh, testified on Wednesday that Zahira Sheikh had taken money to change her statement again.

Zahira Sheikh has yet to take the stand in the retrial.

The rights group, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has angrily rejected Zahira Sheikh's claims.

The Best Bakery case has often been cited by human rights groups as evidence that victims of the Gujarat riots had gained little justice.

Some of Zahira Sheikh's family owned and ran the bakery, and were among those killed.

The 2002 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.

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