The Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday declared four more witnesses hostile in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, PTI reported. Of the 59 witnesses the special court has heard, 42 have turned hostile so far.

Witnesses Sali Bharatbai Marathi and Maheshbhai Shah, both autorickshaw drivers, were present when Anti Terrorism Squad police in Ahmedabad seized samples of blood traces on the car in which Sheikh had been travelling when he was killed, allegedly in a fake encounter, in 2005. Loader Prashant Patel and stock market investor Mehul Shah, two other witnesses, were present when the police seized Sheikh’s clothes, the PTI report said.

One of the autorickshaw drivers told the court on Thursday that he was at a distance from the car when the police took the samples and did not know what they were doing, The Times of India reported.

Although the other driver recollected the police taking samples of blood from the rear seat of the car, he could not identify the plastic containers in which the police kept the cotton swabs, according to The Indian Express.

The witnesses who were present when the police seized Sheikh’s clothes admitted that they were shown a shirt, pants, an underwear and a vest. The CBI declared them hostile after they denied they were told that the clothes belonged to Sheikh and failed to identify them.

The witnesses also claimed they had no idea about the contents of the panchnama (written document) they were made to sign in 2005. They claimed they could not recognise anyone present in the courtroom as being related to the alleged fake encounter.

The case

Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati were suspected of extorting money from marble traders in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

In November 2005, when Sheikh and his wife Kauserbi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra, they were allegedly stopped by the Gujarat and Rajasthan Police, abducted and shot dead near Gandhinagar. Kauserbi was also allegedly raped by a sub-inspector before she was killed.

The Gujarat Police had first claimed that Sheikh was associated with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that he had a plan to kill Narendra Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time. A Special Investigation Team monitored by the Supreme Court later claimed he was killed in a fake encounter.

Prajapati – the sole witness to the killings – was shot dead in another encounter in December 2006, with the police claiming that he was trying to escape from custody.