July 7, 2003
Statement released by the Citizens for Justice and Peace
at a packed press conference in Mumbai on July 7, 2003.
Zahira Habibullah Shaikh and the entire Habibullah family have approached the Citizens for Justice and Peace for legal aid to jointly ask for a re-trial in the BEST Bakery Massacre. In this petition to be filed jointly, the petitioners will also urge the higher Court to order the location of the re-trial outside Gujarat as a consistent atmosphere of threat pervades there under the current political dispensation. The additional sessions judge in Vadodara had about a week ago acquitted all the accused in the massacre who had been consistently named by key witness, Zahira Shaikh in her statements before the police, the NHRC and the Concerned Citizens Tribunal (Crimes Against Humanity, 2002).
Lack of moral and legal support through the court hearings, coupled with an atmosphere of direct threat and intimidation, had led her and family members to deny recognition of the accused sitting in court the day she was summoned for deposition - May 17, 2003. She and her family had been directly threatened that they would all be killed by the key accused and their mentors from the Hanuman Tekri area in Vadodara.
Substantive evidence was also not led in the course of the trial. Therefore, today, given the strength and support of Mumbai-based CJP they strongly wish to ask for a re-trial. The petition in the BEST bakery case asking for a re-trial is likely to be filed later this week.
The BEST Bakery carnage in which 14 persons were brutally massacred over a period of 12 hours on March 1, 2002, like 18 other brutal incidents in that period in Gujarat, epitomised the abject failure of the state administration and law and order machinery to protect the lives and properties of innocent citizens. Though the NHRC recommended over a year ago that such cases be handed over to the CBI for non-partisan investigation, and citizens approached the Supreme Court making this plea, the apex court is still hearing this matter.
Meanwhile, the various trials carry on within Gujarat with the legal and constitutional processes being subverted through inadequate legal aid from the state for victims, coupled with intimidation and threat by the accused. Petitions praying for compensation from the state government are still pending before the Gujarat High Court. We hope that the example of the BEST Bakery trial brings alive the issue of subverted constitutional norms and delayed justice that is the lived reality in the state of Gujarat today, to other democratic institutions in the country.
Citizens for Justice and Peace
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