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47 Indian police get life in prison for killing Sikh pilgrims

LUCKNOW: A special court in India has sentenced 47 policemen to life in prison for killing a group of Sikh pilgrims in 1991 whom they had claimed were militants, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The officers were convicted of shooting dead the pilgrims to try and earn promotions in Uttar Pradesh state which at the time was hit by Sikh militant activity, the Press Trust of India (PTI) said.

The officers stopped a bus carrying the pilgrims and their families before later marching 11 of them into a jungle area of the northern state and carrying out the killings, prosecutor SC Jaiswal said.

“The court observed that there was ample evidence to award life sentences to the guilty,” Jaiswal told AFP of the court’s decision on Monday.

“The court specifically observed that a crime of such magnitude could not have happened without the knowledge of those higher up and they too should have been charged.”

The court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s leading investigative agency, found the police guilty of carrying out a “fake encounter”.

The term is commonly used term in India for staged confrontations in which police or military forces execute unarmed suspects and later claim it as self-defence.

At the time of the killings, militants were fighting in the region to try to create a Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

The Supreme Court, acting on a lawyer’s petition, ordered the CBI to investigate the case. The CBI charged 57 police in 1995 but 10 of them died during the eventual trial that took years to conclude in India’s notoriously slow legal system. The remaining 47 were found guilty on Friday.

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