March 2, 2006 | 1 Comment
On February 24, nine of the twenty-one accused in the Best Bakery case were convicted of burning fourteen people to death and sentenced to life imprisonment. Eight others were acquitted, while four others have yet to be found.
The judge said he was not awarding capital punishment to the convicts because it could not be ascertained what were their specific roles in the crime.
The court also ordered that perjury charges be brought against Zahira Sheikh, the main witness who changed her testimony twice. In June 2003, all of the accused in the case were acquitted after she and other witnesses withdrew their evidence. She later claimed that this was the result of threats by local politicians, which prompted the judge to order a retrial. However, she again changed her story, claiming that rights groups pressured her into making allegations against the police.
The court also cleared charges against activist Teesta Seetalvad, who was instrumental in bringing the Best Bakery case to light.
Apart from Zahira Sheikh, her brothers Nafisullah and Nasibullah, her mother Sehrunissa and sister Sahira had turned hostile. Eleven of the 14 persons, who were burnt to death, were relatives of the Sheikhs. Only Zahira’s cousin Yasminbanu Sheikh stuck to her original stand. Her testimony was among those that were used to convict the nine accused.
The court has issued notices to the hostile witnesses requiring that they explain by March 20 why they should not be prosecuted for perjury.