The Indian Express – Naroda Patiya massacre: Gujarat High Court acquits former BJP minister Maya Kodnani

The Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 97 Muslims were killed, was among the most brutal cases in the post-Godhra violence in 2002.

Satish Jha

Ahmedabad, 20 April 2018. The Gujarat High Court Friday acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case overturning a trial court ruling which had sentenced her life imprisonment in 2012.

Also upholding the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi in the same case, the HC commuted his sentence of life imprisonment until death to 21 years imprisonment without remission.

The division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and A S Supehia giving Kodnani the “benefit of doubt” found that the testimonies of the witnesses against her were unreliable. The Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 97 Muslims were killed, was among the most brutal cases in the post-Godhra violence in 2002.

Acquitting 18 of the 32 convicted by the trial court, the HC Friday also overturned the trial court acquittal of three accused, P J Rajput, Rajkumar Chaumal alias Raju who is an advocate, and Umesh Bharwad and held them guilty.

The quantum of sentence will be pronounced on May 5.

The special trial court presided over by Judge Jytosna Yagnik, now retired, and set up on directions of the Supreme Court, which directly monitored the trials of nine 2002 riot cases of Gujarat, had relied on 11 witnesses to hold Kodnani guilty as the “kingpin” in the case and had sentenced her to life imprisonment for 28 years.

Kodnani has been on bail for health reasons.

Reading out the judgment Justice Devani said that in the case of Kodnani, out of 11 eyewitnesses who deposed against her, none had named her when the incident took place.

Justice Devani noted, “Version given by these witnesses are contradictory to each other… none of the police witnesses present at the incident named Maya Kodnani. Given this… it would be hazardous for the court to implicate her.”

The HC discarded the account of eyewitnesses who named Kodnani as the leader of the mob only in 2008 and held that none of the witnesses had even mentioned her name till several probe agencies and NGOs came into the picture.

The bench pointed out that though witnesses claimed later that they did not know the content of their complaints recorded by local police, they never mentioned Kodnani’s name in their later complaints or affidavits to senior police officers and the Supreme Court between 2002 and 2008.

Some witnesses had filed affidavits in the apex court in 2004 and alleged that local police were not probing their complaint properly they did not mention Kodnani’s name.

The bench held that under these circumstances, the eyewitness testimonies recorded after a gap of six years, with the help of NGOs, needed to be evaluated since all the witnesses came forward only in 2008.

In the order, Justice Devani said, “Given this… it would be hazardous for the court to implicate her.” Justice Devnani also said that the “testimony of none of the witnesses is reliable and charges under 120B (conspiracy) not established. Hence she is acquitted.”

In the case of Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi, the HC relied on four police witnesses who had testified that Bajrangi was leading a mob at different times on that day.

The trial court had not relied upon these police witnesses. The high court noted that it was “nobody’s case that police acted in a partisan manner of Hindu mob or assisted them.”

The court commuted Bajrangi’s sentence of life imprisonment until death to 21 years imprisonment without remission.

With Bajrangi, the bench upheld the conviction of Prakash Rathod and Suresh Didawala alias Richard alias Langado for murder and criminal conspiracy. Bajrangi, Rathod and Didawala were also caught confessing to the crime in a sting operation.

All three were the only accused whose convictions were upheld in the conspiracy charge. The trial court had held 27 accused responsible for the conspiracy under which they mobilised people to target Muslims.

The bench opined that CDs or DVDs of the sting operation were not admissible as evidence but former journalist and now AAP leader Ashish Khetan’s deposition in court was part of the evidence. The trial court had held the sting operation admissible as evidence.

“The most important thing about this judgment is that the bench has upheld that even if two witnesses are attributing to an offender with similar versions, punishment can be given. And this is the reason why conviction of 12 has been upheld and three acquittals have been reversed by the court,” said special public prosecutor R C Kodekar.

Among the acquitted is Kirpal Singh Chabda who was said to be the personal assistant to Kodnani but the high court bench held “prosecution failed to prove it.”

The HC also rejected the SIT appeal against the acquittal of Geeta and her sister Ramila Rathod and said there was no evidence to prove their role. Out of 13 convictions, 12 were handed life sentences and one was awarded 10 years jail.

Naroda Patiya massacre: Gujarat High Court acquits former BJP minister Maya Kodnani,17 others


The Express Tribune – Sikh pilgrims to be given special religious meal

Asif Mehmood

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 20 April 2018. Sikh pilgrims from across the globe, including India, who arrived in Pakistan to commemorate Besakhi Mela and Khalsa’s birthday, will be given specially prepared Prashad and Amrat Jal on their departure.

Over 10,000 packets of Pani Parshad have been prepared in Lahore’s Gurdwara Dera Sahab. The Sikh pilgrims consider Pani Parshad a sacred gift to take back to their homeland.

Sardar Bhushan Singh, the Pani Prasad manufacturing in-charge in Pakistan said that Pani Parshad and Amrat Jal hold the same significance for Sikhs as Aab-e-Zam Zam does for Muslim.

“Scores of Sikh pilgrim from across the world come to the Golden Temple where they are given Prashad halwa. Sikhs believe it to be good for health. Since preserving halwa for long is difficult, hence Pani Parshad is prepared,” shared Amritsar Golden temple manager Rajendra Singh Ruby.

Bhushan elaborated that Pani Parshad is usually prepared during the wheat harvesting season. Semolina is added either to the sattu, wheat or ordinary flour.

“Wheat flour is heated in a big wok and then desi ghee is added to it. When the ghee is absorbed, then refined crushed sugar is added to the wheat flour mix. In addition to it, fennel seeds and thinly sliced almonds are mixed and crushed when dry. This Pani Prashad can be eaten for several months,” he added.

“After the Golden Temple, the Pani Prashad made in Pakistan is the most favourite across the globe.”

Dawn – Editor of damning human rights report harassed, intimidated in ‘burglary-style raid’

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 20 April 2018. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday condemned a “burglary-style raid” on the house of its consultant, Maryam Hasan, who edited the recently-released annual report on the state of human rights in Pakistan.

In a press release issued today, the HRCP stated that the house of Hasan, who lives alone in Lahore, was raided Thursday night during a burglary that lasted for over an hour. The two ‘burglars’ took away her laptop, phones, two hard drives, jewellery and some cash.

“They told Hasan, who lives alone, that they had also come the day before, but not committed burglary since she had not been at home,” the statement read.

“They questioned Hasan about her professional engagements and intimidated her in a roundabout manner” before leaving.

“HRCP suspects that the two suave raiders were no ordinary thieves and calls on the Government of Punjab to apprehend the culprits and establish their identity. HRCP will hold the provincial authorities responsible for any attempt by state or non-state actors to harass any persons associated with the Commission,” the commission has stated.

Established in 1987, the HRCP is an NGO monitoring human rights violations in Pakistan and seeking their remedy through public campaigns, lobbying and intervention in courts.

Released last week, its damning report titled ‘State of Human Rights in 2017’ highlighted an increase in enforced disappearances and targeted violence against soft targets and raised the issue of curbs on freedoms of expression and association, while appreciating legal progress in other aspects of human rights in Pakistan.

The report said that 313 cases of missing persons received by the missing persons commission still remain unresolved and that 2017 was a troubling year for journalists and bloggers.

“Journalists and bloggers continue to sustain threats, attacks and abductions and blasphemy law serves to coerce people into silence,” the report said.

The Statesman – Kathua rape-murder: DSP Shwetambari Sharma slams lawyer’s misogynistic remarks

Shwetambri Sharma is the lone woman officer in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police that investigated the rape and murder of the eight-year-old.

New Delhi – India, 19 April 2018. Days after defence lawyer Ankur Sharma made a misogynistic remark about her, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Shwetambari Sharma has shot back at the prejudiced comments, saying “the whole nation will comment on it”.

Ankur Sharma, who is the defence lawyer of five accused in the case, while referring to DCP Shwetambari had said, “She is a girl, how intelligent can she be?”

As per a NDTV report, while reacting to Ankur Sharma’s remark, Shwetambari Sharma said: “It hurts when you are targeted and your intelligence is doubted just because you are a woman. What should I comment on such a chauvinist remark, the whole nation is there to comment on it.”

As per media reports, Shwetambari while talking to media highlighted the complexities in investigating the Kathua rape case.

She said, during the agitations, it was very hard to investigate the case. Collecting evidence and statements was very tough as the agitators were campaigning in support of the accused. The agitations led by pro-Hindu groups and lawyers bodies made it very difficult for the SIT to carry out their investigations.

However, DCP Shwetambari Sharma said she has full faith in the judiciary and “judiciary is capable enough to bring justice, don’t doubt it”.

Two FIRs have been lodged in the Kathua rape-murder case. One FIR against the eight accused in the case while the second one has been lodged against the lawyer’s body, which allegedly tried to stop the police from filling a charge sheet against the accused.

Shwetambri Sharma is the lone woman officer in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police that investigated the rape and murder of the eight-year-old in Kathua.

The eight accused men are facing chrges of holding an eight-year-old girl captive for a week in the village temple at Rasana in January, during which she was “sedated and sexually assaulted” before being beaten to death. – Kapurthala Sikh and reserved classes organise massive protest against rising hooliganism of fanatic Hindu bodies

Sikh24 Editors

Kapurthala – Panjab – India, 18 April 2018. Kapurthala based Sikh activists headed by senior SAD (Amritsar) leader Jathedar Narinder Singh Khusropur today took out a protest march against rising hooliganism of fanatic Hindu bodies like Shiv Sena in India.

The protest march was taken out in collaboration with local residents belonging to schedule castes and tribes.

Interacting with media on this occasion, Jathedar Narinder Singh Khusropur highly criticized the rising hooliganism of fanatic Hindu bodies in Punjab as well as in other states.

Specifying details of recent attack of schedule caste youths by Shiv Sena activists in a clash over installation of B R Ambedkar’s statue, Khusropur said that these fanatic Hindu bodies once against want to oppress the scheduled castes and minorities with imposition of unjust Hindu ethos of dividing society.

Pained over the depiction of inhumanity by RSS affiliated Hindu youths by gang-raping and murdering an eight years old Muslim girl, Khusropur said that the perpetrators of this inhuman incident should be brought to justice at the earliest.

The Asian Age – Terror emerging again in Punjab, CM warns Centre

New Delhi – India, 20 April 2018. Fearing the re-emergence of militancy in Punjab, chief minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday urged the Centre to put in place an elaborate plan to tackle the emerging threat, with intelligence reports indicating that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was training Sikh youths to revive terror activities in the region.

The issue, particularly some recent targeted killings by ISI-backed operatives, was discussed in detail during a meeting between Captain Singh and Union home minister Rajnath Singh here on Thursday.

The CM also briefed the home minister in detail about the security situation in Punjab and how attempts were being made to disturb the law and order situation through these targeted killings.

Home ministry officials claimed Captain Singh urged the Centre to plan an “all-encompassing” security strategy to deal with the revival of terror in the state.

Captain Singh also stressed the need for further strengthening and sharing of intelligence inputs between the Centre and state agencies, particularly on some terror operatives active in foreign countries like Italy, the United States, Germany, Canada and Britain.

The role of some of these operatives is suspected in recent killings in Punjab, now being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Sources said the home minister assured Captain Singh of all possible help from the Centre in dealing with security issues in the sensitive border state, which had seen a long spell of terror in the past.

The Punjab CM also flagged the issue of how terror elements were using the social media to radicalise youth and the urgent need to counter this. The home ministry had recently told a parliamentary panel that Sikh youths were being trained at ISI facilities in Pakistan to carry out terror activities in India.

Captain Singh appreciated the role of the Central security agencies, particularly the NIA, in handling cases related to the killing of political and religious personalities in the state, which is being seen as a desperate attempt to disturb communal harmony in the region.

The Hindu – Supreme Court reserves verdict on Navjot Singh Sidhu’s plea in 1988 road rage case

New Delhi – India, 18 April 2018. The Supreme Court today reserved its judgment on the appeal filed by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict convicting and sentencing him to three years in jail in a 1988 road rage case.

A bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul reserved the verdict after hearing the arguments.

Senior advocate R S Cheema, appearing for Mr Sidhu, said that the evidence brought on record regarding the cause of death of the victim were “indefinite and contradictory”.

He also said that the medical opinion regarding the cause of death of the deceased, Gurnam Singh, was “vague”.

The bench also reserved its verdict on the appeal filed by Rupinder Singh Sandhu, who along with Mr Sidhu was sentenced to three years in jail by the high court in the case.

Mr Sidhu, who had quit the BJP and joined the Congress days before the Punjab Assembly election last year, had earlier told the bench that the findings of the high court were based on “opinion” and not on medical evidence.

However, the Amarinder Singh government had on April 12 favoured in the top court the high court verdict convicting and awarding the three-year jail term to Mr Sidhu, who is now Punjab’s tourism minister.

The former cricketer had argued that there was “ambiguity” regarding the actual cause of death of Patiala resident Singh.

The counsel for the state had earlier told the apex court: “The trial court verdict was rightly set aside by the High Court. Accused A1 (Navjot Singh Sidhu) had given fist blow to deceased Gurnam Singh leading to his death through brain hemorrhage”.

The state had argued that the trial court was wrong in its findings that the man had died of cardiac arrest and not brain hemorrhage.

The counsel for the complainant had argued that Mr Sidhu’s sentence should be enhanced as it was a case of murder and the cricketer-turned-politician had deliberately removed the keys of the deceased’s car so that he does not get medical assistance.

Mr Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by the trial court in September 1999.

However, the high court had reversed the verdict and held Mr Sidhu and co-accused Mr Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in December 2006. It had sentenced them to three-year jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on the two.

In 2007, the apex court had stayed the conviction of Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu in the case, paving the way for him to contest the by-poll for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.

As per prosecution case, Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu were allegedly present in a Gypsy parked near Sheranwala Gate Crossing in Patiala on 27 December 1988, when Gurnam Singh, Jaswinder Singh and another person were going to the bank to withdraw money for a marriage.

It was alleged that when they reached the crossing, Gurnam Singh, driving a maruti car, found the Gypsy in the middle of the road and asked the occupants, Mr Sidhu and Mr Sandhu, to remove the vehicle for their passage. This led to heated exchanges.

The police had claimed that Mr Singh was beaten up by Mr Sidhu who later fled the crime scene. The injured was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.

BBC News – Protest over detention of Scots Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal

Supporters of a Scottish man detained in India on suspicion of murder have staged a protest in London.

London – UK, 18 April 2018. Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, was arrested in Punjab last November.

Campaigners said the 31-year-old Sikh has been held without charge and tortured. Indian authorities said he is being investigated over seven counts of aiding and abetting of murder.

The protest coincided with the arrival in the UK of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He is in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Downing Street said Prime Minister Theresa May raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi when they met on Wednesday morning.

Mr Johal’s brother, Gurpreet Singh, is among those who travelled from Glasgow to take part in the protest in Parliament Square.

His family have said Mr Johal was a peaceful activist who had contributed to a website remembering the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple at Amritsar but was not a militant.

He was arrested in Punjab on 4 November, just over a fortnight after his wedding.

His supporters claim he has had limited access to his family and to a lawyer, and they have also said reports of torture have been ignored.

Charandeep Singh, from Glasgow Gurdwara, who was among those protesting in London, told BBC Scotland: “What we are asking and urging the government of India and the authorities to do is to actually present the evidence and actually outline what the official charge is.

“If we understand what the official charge is, if there is one, then we are able to present a case, and he can actually rightfully defend himself.”

The Indian High Commission has previously said each of the cases against Mr Johal was proceeding “strictly as per due process of Indian law, as in any mature democratic set-up”.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister raised Mr Johal’s case with Prime Minister Modi this morning and the government will continue to make representations on his behalf until our concerns are addressed.

“Our High Commission staff in India have visited Mr Johal 10 times since his detention, most recently on 22 March, and the Foreign Office are in regular contact with his family.”

The Tribune – KLF chief Harminder Singh Mintoo dies of ‘cardiac arrest’ in Patiala jail; probe ordered

Tribune News Service

Patiala – Panjab – India, 18 April 2018. Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) chief Harminder Singh Mintoo died of ‘cardiac arrest’ here on Wednesday evening, officials of Patiala Central Jail where he was lodged said.

ADGP (Prisons) Inderpreet Singh Sahota has recommended a judicial inquiry into the death of Mintoo. He said Mintoo felt uneasy before appearing in a video-conference in an ongoing case trial.

He had undergone the video conferencing at 2 pm in a case registered against him in Jalandhar and was in his cell when he suffered a cardiac arrest. The jail doctors treated him before he was rushed to Rajindra Hospital.

Mintoo was lodged in the Patiala jail from past over a year. Senior Intelligence officials rushed to Patiala to ascertain the detailed cause of his death, as his links with ISI and various international spy agencies were under scanner.

He had escaped from Nabha prison in a sensational jailbreak on November 28, 2016, only to be arrested a day later.

Who is Harminder Singh Mintoo?

In November 2014, Harminder Singh Mintoo was arrested by Punjab Police from the Indira Gandhi International airport on his return from Thailand. At the time of his arrest, Mintoo was accused of being involved in 10 terror-related cases.

Mintoo was using Thailand as his base to mobilise funds for the banned organisation. He was using online resources to enlist support for the Khalistan cause and to radicalise youth.

Using a fake Malaysian passport and identity card, Mintoo travelled extensively across Europe and South East Asia in order to develop contacts. He frequently made trips to Pakistan, where he was reported to have acquired funds and support.

In India, Mintoo was named accused in several terror cases, including the attack on Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and on three Shiv Sena leaders. He was allegedly tasked by the ISI of Pakistan to carry out an attack in Punjab on Independence Day. However, the plan had failed.

In November 2016, Mintoo escaped from the Nabha jail in Punjab along with five other dreaded gangsters. Six to eight armed men had stormed Nabha jail and opened fire. They eventually helped the six inmates escape from the prison.

Apart from Mintoo, the other four gangsters who escaped included Gurpreet Singh, Vicky Gounder, Neeta Deol and Vikramjeet Singh Vicky.

Mintoo was nabbed from Delhi’s Nizammuddin railway station a day after the Nabha jailbreak.

The Indian Express – Honour for us to host Sikh pilgrims, says Pakistan envoy

Calling it an “honour” for the government of Pakistan to host and serve Sikhs from India, Shah said his country would hold full-scale celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev scheduled for 2019.

New Delhi – India, 18 April 2018. Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner to India Syed Haider Shah Tuesday said his country was investigating and “trying to ascertain facts” on what actually happened with Sikh pilgrims.

The Ministry of External Affairs on Monday had summoned Shah and lodged a strong protest against alleged denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims who are currently in Pakistan to visit shrines for Baisakhi festivities.

The protest was also lodged against for alleged surfacing of Sikh referendum 2020 posters, related to Khalistan, in gurdwaras there.

Speaking at the convocation of Guru Nanak Khalsa College for Women, Gujarkhan Campus, in Ludhiana, Shah said in reply to a query, “We are investigating. We are trying to ascertain facts… ki hua kya hai? (What has actually happened). It is being sorted out through diplomatic channels and both governments are in touch.”

“There is nothing that can’t be sorted out through talks. It is our belief. The relationship between both countries will certainly improve,” he said.

Calling it an “honour” for the government of Pakistan to host and serve Sikhs from India, Shah said his country would hold full-scale celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev scheduled for 2019. “Guru Nanak Dev was not only the guru of Sikhs but the entire humanity.

Pakistan will be fully cooperating with India and also celebrate his 550th birth anniversary next year. In fact, our preparations and celebrations from our side will be more than what India is expecting from us,” he said.

Shah said Pakistan would extend full cooperation for Indian pilgrims who apply for visas to visit Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib (birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev).

Earlier, during his convocation address to the students, Shah stressed on Pakistan’s cultural affinity with India, especially with the Sikh community. “We have deep bonds of cultural affinity (with India), especially with Sikh community.

Baisakhi festivities are going on there. Government of Pakistan feels honoured to serve our Sikh brothers and take care of your relatives in Pakistan. We will continue to do that,” he said.

Shah said his stay in India had been ‘memorable’. “Professionally, it has been an important and challenging assignment for me and worthwhile in understanding complexities of relationship between both countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, Professor Ravinder Bhathal, president Punjab Sahit Akademi, met Shah and demanded that Pakistan extend cooperation for kavi darbaar being planned in Pakistan and India next year for 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev.

Paramjit Singh Sarna, president Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi) and former president Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, also president of the college where Shah came, said, “We face problems in getting visa for our sewaks who do kar sewa at Gurudwara Dera Sahib in Lahore.

We met him several times to discuss such issues. We are glad he accepted our invite to preside over our college’s convocation,” said Sarna.

Sarna said Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan should ignore Khalistan posters and slogans. “It hasn’t happened for the first time. Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan should just focus on praying which is purpose of their visit. They should simply ignore such things,” he said.

Shah also left a note in Urdu in college’s visitor’s diary.

Honour for us to host Sikh pilgrims, says Pakistan envoy