A special CBI court in Mumbai on Friday, 21 December, acquitted all 22 accused in the 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh-Tulsiram Prajapati alleged fake encounter case, observing that there was not "enough evidence" to prove conspiracy.
While delivering the verdict, judge SJ Sharma said that he was "helpless" as the proof was not satisfactory and a large number of witnesses had turned hostile.
During the course of the trial in the case, as many as 92 of the 210 witnesses turned hostile.
Questions Remain Over Key Witnesses
Now despite the court order on Friday, 21 December, acquitting all accused, one needs to look at three key witnesses in the case – one of them who was not summoned and two who want to be re-examined.
One of the them, named Azam Khan, had said that the police had pressurised him to withdraw his testimony. He had claimed that Sohrabuddin was involved in the assassination of former Gujarat minister Haren Pandya under the orders of police officer DG Vanzara.
A petrol pump owner called Mahendra Zala, who was another witness in the case, said that he wanted to be re-examined. He claimed that the prosecution scrapped his testimony for no reason.
Another key witness, whom the prosecution didn't call, is Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rajnish Rai, who probed the Sohrabuddin case. He had access to the phone conversations of the officers involved in the encounter.
Notably, the Home Ministry this week suspended Rajnish Rai even though he had taken voluntary retirement just three months ago.
So why was Rajnish Rai not summoned? And will Azam Khan and Mahendra Zala’s testimonies be re-examined? These are some of the questions people are asking.
Background of the Case
According to the CBI, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, an alleged gangster, Kausar Bi and Prajapati were abducted by the Gujarat police from a bus when they were going to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on the night of 22-23 November 2005.
Sheikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on 26 November 2005 near Ahmedabad, while his wife was killed three days later and her body disposed of, the CBI had said.
It said that a year later, on 27 December 2006, Prajapati was also shot dead by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police in an alleged fake encounter near Chapri on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border.
The accused in the case included BJP President Amit Shah, who was the home minister at the time of the encounter, and the then Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria. But both of them had already been discharged earlier, along with 14 others, including DG Vanzara.