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Distasteful: Ex-judge on panel that released Bilkis Bano's rapists

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Mumbai, Aug 23: Granting remission of sentence is within the government's powers but the felicitation' of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case by some people was distasteful, the judge who convicted them 14 years ago said here on Tuesday.

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The Gujarat government's decision to release 11 convicts undergoing life sentence for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members during the 2002 riots has led to outrage. Some unconfirmed reports also claimed that they were felicitated by local leaders upon release.

"I don't think I did anything special (in convicting them). My judgment was my duty," said retired judge U D Salvi at Solidarity With Bilkis Bano', an event organized by United Against Injustice and Discrimination'. "The state has the right to grant remission. It's a power given to the state under law," Salvi said, adding that he can not comment on the decision to release the convicts prematurely as he had not seen the relevant reports and did not know what factors were considered.

"But their felicitation (by some people) was in absolute bad taste. The convicts themselves should not have accepted felicitation," Salvi said to a question by reporters. Eleven convicts walked out of Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government allowed their release on August 15 this year.

The trial was shifted to Mumbai by the Supreme Court in 2004 after Bano claimed that she was receiving threats. A special court for CBI cases here, presided over by Salvi, sentenced the accused to life imprisonment on January 21, 2008. Salvi also said that he wanted to read his judgment again as it had been long time ago, but "the judgment is not available."

Bilkis Bano case: SC agrees to hear plea challenging remission order of releasing convictsBilkis Bano case: SC agrees to hear plea challenging remission order of releasing convicts

The remission granted by the Gujarat government to the convicts has been challenged before the Supreme Court. After violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 'karsevaks 'on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five months pregnant then, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others.

On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people attacked them. Bano was gang raped while seven members of her family were killed.

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