India’s top court on Monday restored life prison sentences for 11 Hindu men who raped a Muslim woman during deadly religious rioting two decades ago and asked the convicts to surrender to the authorities within two weeks.
The Hindu men were convicted in 2008 of rape and murder. They were released in 2022 after serving 14 years in prison.
The victim, who is now in her 40s, was pregnant when she was brutally gang-raped in 2002 in western Gujarat state during communal rioting that was some of India’s worst religious violence with over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed.
Seven members of the woman’s family, including her 3-year-old daughter, were killed during the riots. The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault.
The men were eligible for remission of their sentence under a policy that was in place at the time of their convictions. At the time of their release, officials in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party holds power, had said the convicts were granted remission because they had completed over 14 years in jail.
A revised policy adopted in 2014 by the federal government prohibits remission release for those convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder.
Following the release of the convicts, the victim had filed a petition with the Supreme Court, saying “the en masse premature release of the convicts… has shaken the conscience of the society.”
The 2002 riots have long hounded 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 the Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.