Ajit Solanki/Associated Press
June 2, 2016 9:03 a.m. ET
NEW DELHI—An Indian court on Thursday convicted 24 people of involvement in the massacre of Muslims during religious riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister there.
A total of 69 people were killed at a housing complex called the Gulbarg Society, in the city of Ahmedabad, part of dayslong communal violence that counts among the worst in India’s recent history. More than 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims, and the riots have long dogged Mr. Modi’s political life.
Some victims, political opponents and rights activists accuse Mr. Modi of intentionally failing to protect Muslims from Hindu mobs. Mr. Modi, who has roots in Hindu nationalism, has always denied wrongdoing—and an Indian court rejected a petition seeking his prosecution, saying the evidence presented was insufficient.
The court on Thursday acquitted 36 accused, according to a lawyer involved in the case. Sentencing for those convicted of murder and other charges will take place on Monday.
Among the victims of the massacre, in which homes were burned and women were raped, was a former leader in the opposition Congress party, Ehsan Jafri. His wife says Mr. Jafri made repeated calls to police and other officials during the attacks but authorities failed to intervene in time.
“They should get the most stringent punishment,” Zakia Jafri told reporters Thursday, adding that she would consider appealing against the acquittals. Ms. Jafri is separately petitioning a court to prosecute Mr. Modi in an effort to pin blame on him and his administration at that time for the killings.
Some former officials have been convicted over the events in Gujarat in 2002. Maya Kodnani, a worker for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who was later appointed as a minister in Mr. Modi’s state government, was found guilty of inciting a Hindu mob that killed 95 people. Ms. Kodnani was sentenced in 2012 to 28 years in prison.
Since his rise on the national stage, Mr. Modi has tried to shed his image as a Hindu hard-liner. In campaigns and as prime minister, he has largely stayed away from controversial religious issues, casting himself instead as an economic reformer.
But some activists say Mr. Modi’s coming to power emboldened Hindu fundamentalists and increased social and religious intolerance. They accuse the prime minister of not doing enough to restrain those among his supporters who are pushing a divisive agenda. Mr. Modi has never made a comment on the accusations.
Last year, a Muslim man was killed allegedly by a Hindu mob that suspected he had slaughtered a cow, an animal considered holy to Hindus. Mr. Modi made a broad appeal for harmony several days after the incident and called the violence “unfortunate,” drawing criticism from those who say the otherwise vocal leader should have condemned the killing more strongly.
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