A group of 401 citizens, including human rights activists, former civil servants and artistes, on Wednesday said that the release of all 11 men convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case sets an inhumane and immoral precedent.

The 11 men had gangraped Bano in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed on the ground by the perpetrators.

On August 15, the convicts were released from a Godhra jail after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy. On the same day, the convicts were greeted with sweets by their relatives after their release. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh felicitated them as well.

The signatories of the statement by the 401 citizens include retired Indian Administrative Services officer Jawhar Sircar, actor Nafisa Ali, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, photographer Raghu Rai and singer Shubha Mudgal. They have urged the government to revoke the remission.

“We believe that the remission and the government’s silence sends out a signal of impunity and sets a precedent that is inhuman and immoral,” the statement said.

The decision to free the convicts on Independence Day makes it more inhumane, it added.

“As Gandhiji mourned the violence of 1947 on the day India became free, we too mourn with profound sorrow and express our solidarity with Bilkis Bano who suffered unspeakable brutalisation and trauma and now watches helplessly, as her tormentors are felicitated and their release celebrated,” they said.

The premature release of the 11 convicts has been condemned by several civil rights groups and activists. A report also found that some of the convicts had allegedly threatened witnesses in the case and attended political events when out on parole.

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 BJP. Two of them are currently MLAs.

On August 18, Gujarat MLA CK Raulji, who was part of the panel, had said that the convict’s conduct in jail was good. Raulji also said that in cases of communal violence, innocent persons are often targeted. He added that family members of the convicts were “honest”.

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