The Gujarat government, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, said that it had decided to release the convicts because they had “completed 14 years and above in prison… their behaviour was found to be good” and the Centre had also “conveyed (its) concurrence."
The state added:
Superintendent of Police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai and the Special Civil Judge (CBI), City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Bombay, had, in March last year, opposed the early release of the prisoners.
Bilkis was gangraped while she was pregnant and her three-year-old daughter was among those killed by a mob during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
However, on 15 August this year, the Gujarat government had released all the 11 men convicted in the case, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008.
What Has Happened So Far?
Amid outrage over the early release, The Quint had reported that the advisory committee that backed the release and remission of the 11 convicts was replete with links to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The 10-member committee, headed by Godhra Collector and District Magistrate Sujal Mayatra, which "unamiously" decided to push for the remission. The committee included two current BJP legislators, besides three other members of the saffron party.
The state government had cited a “unanimous” recommendation of the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) to grant them remission on grounds of “good behaviour."
Meanwhile, two petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the remission -- one by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and academician Roop Rekha Verma, and the other by TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
Critics too had questioned whether the Union Home Ministry had approved the release and had pointed out that the current laws at both centre and state levels restrict the release of rape convicts or those sentenced to life imprisonment.
So what exactly did the Home Ministry say in its letter? Why did the CBI oppose the release? And what else has the Gujarat government said? Here's everything you need to know.
What Did the Home Ministry Say?
The Home Ministry in its letter, which was accessed by The Quint, said that it conveys "the concurrence/approval of the Central Government under Section 435 of the CrPC for premature release of the 11 prisoners."
Section 435 of the CrPC directs the State Government to act after consultation with Central Government in certain cases.
Why Did the CBI, Special Judge Oppose the Release?
While highlighting that the convicts were given punishment of life sentence by a Sessions court and the same was upheld by an appellate court, the CBI said that offence committed by them was "heinous, grave and serious."
Hence, the above accused cannot be "released prematurely and no leniency may be given" to them.
The special judge too had opposed their early release, observing that "the crime was committed only on the ground that the victims belong to a particular religion. In this case, even minor children were not spared."
What Else Has the Gujarat Government Said?
The Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case on completion of their 14 years sentence as their "behaviour was found to be good" and after approval from the central government.
The government has also said that the decision was taken as per the policy dated 09.07.1992 "as directed by" the apex court and not "under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of celebration of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'.
The government considered the opinions of seven authorities to grant the remission, it has told the top court.
The government reply reveals that while the proposal for premature release of the convicts was opposed by the SP, Central Bureau Of Investigation, SCB, Mumbai and Special Judge (CBI), City Civil & Sessions Court, Greater Bombay, all the authorities in Gujarat gave their no objection for the release of 10 convicts.
'The Release Has Shaken My Faith In Justice': Bilkis Bano
Meanwhile, in her a statement, in the aftermath of the release of the 11 men, Bilkis Bano had said:
"I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this?"
In a statement released by her lawyer, Bano said, "Two days ago, on August 15 2022, the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again. When I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my 3-year-old daughter, had walked free."
Stating that the move has taken away her faith from India's justice system, she said, "I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace, and shaken my faith in justice."
She further said, "My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts."
"No one enquired about my safety and well-being before taking such a big and unjust decision. I appeal to the Gujarat government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear, and in peace," she added.