The US Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Friday strongly condemned the "unjustified" early release of 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano case. They were sentenced to life for raping a pregnant Muslim woman and murdering her five-year-old daughter and 13 others during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
"USCIRF strongly condemns the early and unjustified release of 11 men sentenced to life in prison for raping a pregnant Muslim woman and committing murder against Muslim victims during the 2002 Gujarat Riots," USCIRF Vice Chair Abraham Cooper said in a statement.
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.
The BJP-led Gujarat government has been facing ire for approving the early release of the convicts under its old 1992 remission policy. While those convicted for murder with rape or gang rape do not come under the scope of the revised policy, a senior official of the Gujarat government said the release was considered under the state's old remission policy because it was in effect in 2008 when they were pronounced guilty in the case.
Thousands of grassroots workers and women and human rights activists have urged the Supreme Court to revoke the remission, saying the release will have a "chilling effect on every rape victim who is told to 'trust the system', 'seek justice', and 'have faith'."
The Congress party has questioned the neutrality of the review panel that granted the remission saying two BJP MLAs were part of the panel.
"There is an interesting side story to the grant of remission to 11 persons convicted for gang rape in Gujarat. Among the Review Panel were two BJP MLAs Shri CK Raolji and Smt Suman Chauhan!"
"Another member was Shri Murli Mulchandani who was a key witness for the prosecution in the Godhra Train burning case!" he alleged on Twitter.