Bishop Godfrey de Souza of Baroda whose diocese covers Godhra says the state government is trying to shield “the real culprits” by giving “such a harsh punishment to innocent” people.

“Those who needed to be penalized, have got free,” he said.

On February 23, the special court acquitted 63 people, including the alleged key conspirator Maulana Hussain Umarjee, for want of evidence.

The incident triggered statewide sectarian riots that according to government records killed 1,182 person, mostly Muslims.

All the accused in the case have already spent nine years in jail.

The court described those convicted as a “core committee” that organized a mob and procured more than 100 liters of petrol to set the train on fire.

Jesuit activist Father Joseph Appavoo too says the verdict is “victimization of innocent people” through harsh punishment.

“If there is any conspiracy, it is on the part of” the Bharatiya Janata Party that rules the state, alleged the priest, who directs a social service society.

Another Jesuit human rights activist, Father Cedric Prakash, says the verdict is “outrageous and shocking.”

The death penalty had been handed out although the case had “no shadow of evidence to prove criminal conspiracy theory.” The court has acquitted the alleged chief conspirator, the Ahmedabad-based priest said.

Muslim activist J. S. Bandukwala described the court verdict as “very sad’” and expressed the hope the courts would maintain the same standard while dealing with riot cases where the accused happen to be Hindus.

A special court in Ahmedabad today sentenced 11 people to death and 30 others to life imprisonment for their parts in the 2002 torching of a train at Godhra.

The prosecution had accused 94 Muslims of setting fire to a train coach that killed 59 Hindu pilgrims at Godhra train station in the western Indian state of Gujarat. UCAN