‘Unjustified’: US comission on religious freedom condemns release of Bilkis Bano rape convicts

USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck

By Muslim Mirror Desk

USCIRF, or the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, denounced the remissioned sentences for 11 men who were found guilty of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case on Friday.


According to the panel, the judgement was “unjustified” and followed a pattern in India where people who commit acts of violence against religious minorities are frequently left unpunished.

Calling the early release of the convicts a “travesty of justice”, USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck said it was part of a “pattern of impunity” for those involved in the violence against religious minorities.

“The failure to hold accountable perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat Riots who committed physical & sexual violence is a travesty of justice. It’s part of a pattern of impunity in India for those engaged in violence against religious minorities,” USCIRF quoted Schneck as saying.

Following the Gujarat government’s approval of their appeal to have their sentences reduced under its remission policy, the prisoners were released from a Godhra jail on Monday.

The BJP-led Gujarat administration has come under fire for authorising the prisoners’ early release under the state’s previous 1992 remission policy. The state’s old remission policy was in place in 2008 when the defendants were found guilty in the case, so even though those who have been found guilty of murder with rape or gang rape are not covered by the revised policy, a senior Gujarat government official said the release was still taken into consideration under it.

Numerous women’s rights advocates, who number over 6,000, have pleaded with the Supreme Court to overturn its decision to grant the sentences of the convicted criminals.

On March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat, Bilkis Bano was gangraped. At the time, she was 19 and expecting. Her three-year-old daughter was one of the fourteen family members who were killed by rioters close to Ahmedabad. The girl was taken from her mother’s arms by one of the men, who then struck her head against a rock.

“When I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my 3 year old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words. I am still numb,” Bilkis said after the release of the convicts.

“Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”


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