NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian court on Friday sentenced 11 people to life in prison for murder in one of the many deadly religious riots that swept across the western state of Gujarat in 2002 and left more than 1,000 dead.
Special Court Judge P.B. Desai rejected the demand for the death penalty after finding the prosecution failed to prove the charge of criminal conspiracy against the defendants.
The judge sentenced 12 more people to seven years in prison and one to 10 years in connection with the same riot in a Muslim neighborhood in Ahmadabad, a key city in the state in which a mob set dozens of homes on fire and 69 people were killed.
The judge described the Ahmadabad killings on Feb. 28, 2002, as the "darkest day" in the history of civil society, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The dead included a former lawmaker from the opposition Congress party, Ehsan Jafri.
His widow, Zakia Jafri, expressed her disappointment with the verdict. "This is hardly the punishment for the crime they have committed," she said.
Activist Anand Yagnik said the death penalty would have been a proper punishment.
The Gujarat riots, which erupted after a train car full of Hindu nationalists was engulfed in a fire that killed 60 people inside, pitted mobs of Hindus against Muslims, who were widely blamed for setting the fire, though arson was never confirmed.
The riots have long hounded Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat's top elected official at the time, amid allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Modi has repeatedly denied having any role, and India's Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.
But criminal cases against participants in the riots have moved slowly through India's creaky legal system.
The first high-profile convictions came in 2012 when Maya Kodnani, a former state government minister, and 31 others were found guilty of charges ranging from rioting to murder linked to an attack in a small industrial town on Ahmadabad's outskirts in which 95 people were killed.
Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years in prison but has been free on bail pending her appeal.