All the eleven accused who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2002 post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder of seven members of her family were released on Monday from the Godha sub-jail after the Gujarat Government permitted their release under its remission policy.

The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

The accused were arrested in the year 2004.

A special CBI Court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008 had sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family.

The conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

The convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them had approached the Supreme Court seeking premature release.

The Apex Court had directed the Government of Gujarat to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the Government had formed a committee.

The panel was headed by Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra who stated that the committee was formed a few months back and took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government and on Monday the committee received the orders for the release of the eleven convicts.

After the violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 'karsevaks 'on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five-month pregnant at that time, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others.

On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them and Bilkis Bano was gang raped, while seven members of her family were killed. Six other members managed to run away.

The Supreme Court had ordered a CBI probe considering the grave nature of the incident.

The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.

The special CBI court on January 21, 2008, sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family.

They were convicted on charges of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under the IPC.

The Special Court had acquitted the seven other accused for want of evidence and one of the accused had died during the trial.

In 2018, while upholding the conviction of the accused persons, the Bombay High Court had set aside the acquittal of the seven persons.

In April 2019, the Apex Court had directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs. 50 lacs compensation, a job and a house to Bilkis Bano.

One of them, Radheshyam Shah, had approached the Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the CrPC.

The High Court dismissed his plea while observing that the "appropriate government" to decide about his remission is Maharashtra and not Gujarat.

Shah then filed a plea in the Supreme Court pleading that he had been in jail for 15 years and 4 months without remission as of April 1, 2022.

In its order dated May 13, the Apex Court held that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine Shah's application.

The Court directed the Gujarat government to consider the application for premature release in terms of the policy dated July 9, 1992 and may decide within two months.

Human rights lawyer Shamshad Pathan said on Monday night that a large number of convicts who have committed a less heinous crime than the Bilkis case continue to languish in jails without any remission.

"There are several accused whose conviction term is over but they are not released from jails on the grounds that they are part of some gang or are involved in one or two murders. But in heinous cases like this, the Gujarat government easily approves the remission of the convicts and allows them to walk out of the jail," said Pathan.

"When a government takes such a decision the hope of the victim in the system diminishes. Even when the Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to consider their remission, it should have considered against the remission rather than allowing it," said the lawyer.

With PTI Inputs