The Gujarat High Court on Thursday upheld the life imprisonment terms of 17 people and acquitted 14 more convicted for the 2002 Sardarpura riots case where 33 Muslims were killed, PTI reported. A division bench of the court comprising Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav also dismissed the appeal of the Special Investigation Team and the Gujarat government against the acquittal of 31 other people by the trial court in the case.

The bench acquitted the 14 convicted in the case on the grounds of lack of evidence and contradictions in witness accounts. It cited the “two-witness test” prescribed by the Supreme Court as the basis for its acquittal. The test calls for having at least two witnesses testifying against an accused in a riots to allow the court to convict that person. The bench also upheld the trial court’s rejection of the argument that the attack was the result of a planned conspiracy after the Sabarmati Express train burning incident at Godhra on February 27, 2002.

While 11 of the 14 were given the “benefit of doubt”, three people were given a clean chit, according to The Indian Express. SIT lawyer KB Anandjiwala said the body would take a call on challenging the high court’s decision after it received a copy of the order. Meanwhile, the lawyer for the victims said that there was a possibility of them filing an appeal. “We believe there are several legal points which can be challenged,” said Yusuf Sheikh.

On February 28, 2002, hundreds of people surrounded the Sheikh Vaas lane in Sardarpura, neat Surat city, and the mob burnt the house of a man where the victims had taken shelter. Police arrested 76 people in connection with the case, two of whom died during the trial process. The trial court on November 9, 2011, sentenced 31 people to life imprisonment while acquitting the rest. The case was one of the nine Gujarat riots investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.