The convicts were released for "good behaviour". (FILE)
Defending the early release of 11 men convicted of raping Bilkis Bano and killing her entire family in the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Gujarat government cited "good behaviour" and the Centre's approval.
But the "good behaviour" claim has been shredded by FIRs revealed against the convicts, who spent thousands of days on parole even before their premature release.
NDTV has accessed multiple FIRs and police complaints in which the convicts are accused of threatening and harassing witnesses while out on parole. In their "good behaviour" justification, the Gujarat government even claimed there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by the convicts while they were serving time in jail, and while they were out on parole.
Between 2017-2021, at least four witnesses in the Bilkis Bano case registered complaints and FIRs against the convicts, NDTV's investigation reveals.
NDTV has accessed one FIR and two police complaints.
*An FIR dated July 6, 2020, was registered against two of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah and Miteshbhai Bhatt while they were out on parole.
The FIR (First Information Report) was filed at Radhikapur police station in Dahod under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force with intention to outrage modesty), 504 (intimidation), 506 (2) (threat to kill) and 114 (abetment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by Saberaben Patel, and a witness in the Bilkis Bano case, Pintubhai.
The FIR says three men, including the two convicts and Radheshyam's brother Ashish, threatened Saberaben, her daughter Arfa and witness Pintubhai for implicating them with their statements.
*Mansuri Abdul Razzaq Abdul Majid, another witness, filed a police complaint with Dahod police against Sailesh Chimmanlal Bhatt on January 1, 2021. He, too, alleged threats from the convict while he was out on parole.
This complaint never turned into an FIR.
*Two other witnesses, Ghanchi Adambhai Ismailbhai and Ghanchi Imtiazbhai Yusufbhai, filed a complaint against one of the convicts, Govind Nai, on July 28, 2017. The applicants alleged that the accused threatened to kill them if they didn't "compromise", while Nai was out on parole. This complaint also never turned into an FIR.
The convicts were freed on August 15 Independence Day and greeted with garlands and sweets like heroes outside a jail in Gujarat.
The Supreme Court remarked yesterday that Gujarat's defence quoted a series of judgments but missed factual statements.
"I have not come across a counter affidavit where a series of judgments are quoted. Factual statement should have been made. A very bulky counter. Where is the factual statement, where is the application of mind?" a bench headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi observed.
Union Minister Prahlad Joshi defended the convicts' release, citing their "good behaviour".
"When the government and the concerned people have taken the decision, I don't find anything wrong in it as it is a process of law," Mr Joshi told NDTV.
Reacting to the outrage over the "law" applied on convicts sentenced for what the CBI called a "heinous, grave and serious" crime, the Minister echoed Gujarat's "good behaviour" argument.
"After having been in prison for some time, if their behaviour...there are so many incidents, I don't want to get into that," Mr Joshi said.