The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, on Friday condemned the remission of the sentences for 11 men convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case.
The panel claimed that the decision was “unjustified” and part of a pattern of impunity in India for those engaged in violence against religious minorities.
On Friday, USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck said the remission of the convicts’ sentences is a travesty of justice.
Bilkis Bano was gangraped on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered by the rioters near Ahmedabad. One of the men snatched the girl from her mother’s arms and smashed her head on a rock.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots.
The convicts were released from a Godhra jail on Monday after the Gujarat government approved their application to reduce their sentences under its remission policy.
Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar had said that the government considered their remission application as the convicts had served 14 years in jail as well as due to other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, [and] behaviour in prison”.
Their release was based on the recommendation of a panel formed by the Gujarat government under the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Out of the ten members of the panel, five are office bearers in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Two of them are currently MLAs, Scroll.in has learnt.
The decision by the Gujarat government was also against the opinion of the Mumbai trial court that had sentenced them to life imprisonment for rape and murder. The trial court had given a “negative opinion” on the remission plea, according to a member of the jail advisory committee.
Several other rights groups have also condemned the move by the Gujarat government.
On Thursday, over 6,000 citizens, including human rights activists, urged the Supreme Court to revoke the remission of the sentences of the 11 men.
“The remission of these sentences is not only immoral and unconscionable, it goes against the state of Gujarat’s own existing remission policy which expressly states such remission is ‘NOT’ for those convicted of rape or gangrape,” they had said in a statement.