Protests in India against the release of 11 convicted rapists

NEW DELHI — Hundreds of people staged demonstrations in various parts of India on Saturday to protest a recent government decision to release 11 men who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for gang raping a Muslim woman during the devastating 2002 religious riots in India.

Protesters in the country’s capital, New Delhi, chanted slogans demanding that the government in the western state of Gujarat reverse the decision. They also sang songs in solidarity with the victim.

Similar protests were also held in several other states.

The 11 men, who were released on probation on August 15 as India celebrated 75 years of independence, were convicted in 2008 of rape, murder and illegal assembly.

The victim, who is now in her 40s, recently said the decision of the Gujarat state government has stunned her and shaken her faith in justice.

The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The victim was pregnant when she was brutally raped in 2002 in Gujarat during communal violence that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in some of the worst religious riots India has experienced since independence from Britain in 1947. Seven members of the woman’s family, including her three-year-old daughter, were also killed in the violence.

“The whole country should demand a response directly from the prime minister of this country,” said Kavita Krishnan, a prominent activist.

Officials in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party is in power, have said the convicts’ request for pardon was granted because they had spent more than 14 years in prison. The men were eligible under a 1992 remission policy in effect at the time of their sentencing, officials said. A newer version of the policy passed by the federal government in 2014 prohibits the release of pardons from individuals convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder.

The riots are haunting Modi, Gujarat’s top elected official at the time, amid allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Modi has repeatedly denied having played a role and the Supreme Court has said it has found no evidence to prosecute him.

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Asiya Qureshi, a young demonstrator in New Delhi, said she took part in the demonstrations to seek justice for the victim.

“Modi gave a speech on the security and protection of women in India on August 15 and they released the rapists on the same day,” Qureshi said. “How am I safe in such a climate?”

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