An Alwar court on Wednesday acquitted all six accused in the lynching of Pehlu Khan, allegedly killed two years ago by a mob that set upon him while he was transporting cows.
Hours after the verdict, the Rajasthan government said it will appeal against the verdict delivered by the court of an additional district judge.
Apart from the six acquitted by the Alwar court, three others — all under 18 — are still facing a separate inquiry by a juvenile justice board.
While acquitting the six men, the court gave them benefit of the doubt, according to a lawyer.
A lawyer representing the accused said the witnesses produced by the prosecution failed to identify them.
He also claimed that the video that purportedly showed the lynching was not sent to a forensic lab by the prosecution.
Pehlu Khan, 55, his two sons and a few others were transporting cows when they were allegedly stopped and thrashed by cow vigilantes near Behror on April 1, 2017.
Later, a video clip surfaced on social media purportedly showing a group of men beating them.
Khan, a resident of Jaisinghpura village in Haryana’s Nuh district, died in hospital on April 3, triggering outrage over the murder and focusing attention on attacks by cow vigilantes.
“The court gave benefit of the doubt to all six accused and acquitted them of lynching charges. We have not received the court order copy and will wait for it to study it and appeal in the higher court,” Additional Public Prosecutor Yogendra Khatana told reporters.
The accused let off by the court are Vipin Yadav, Ravindra Kumar, Kaluram, Dayanand, Yogesh Kumar and Bheem Rathi.
The court of Additional District Judge Sarita Swami completed the trial proceedings on August 7 and reserved judgment for Wednesday.
Pehlu Khan’s son Irshad Khan said, “I am not happy with court decision and will appeal in the higher court.”
Prosecution lawyer Qasim Khan also said there will be in an appeal in the higher court.
“We are hopeful of getting justice,” he said.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Rajeeva Swaroop told PTI that the state government has decided to file an appeal before the High Court, a decision also confirmed later by the chief minister.
‘Our State Government has enacted law against mob lynching in first week of August 2019. We are committed to ensuring justice for family of late Sh Pehlu Khan. State Government will file appeal against order of ADJ,’ Ashok Gehlot tweeted.
Defence lawyer Hukum Chand Sharma called the Alwar court decision ‘historic’ and a ‘slap on the face’ of people who he said were doing politics over it.
Elaborating on the line taken by the Defence, Sharma said witnesses produced by the prosecution could not identify the accused.
He said Pehlu Khan was a heart patient, and there were differing opinions on the cause of death — a heart attack or a rib fracture.
Asked about the video clip, the lawyer argued that the witness who took filmed it did not appear in the court and it was not sent for forensic lab examination.
Sharma, however, added that the basis on which the accused were acquitted can only be known after the court order is available.
The then Bharatiya Janata Party government in Rajasthan under Vasundhara Raje had come under flak over the killing, with the incident escalating the debate over Muslims facing attacks from cow vigilantes.
Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan Assembly Gulab Chand Kataria said the previous BJP government had taken whatever action it could when the Pehlu Khan case took place.
But some people projected the incident in a manner that suggested that the BJP government was in favour of the killing, Kataria, who was the state’s home minister then, said.
He said the BJP had acted correctly. “But the matter was given a colour and raised in the entire country.”
Recently, the Rajasthan Assembly passed a bill, introduced by the current Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state, to tackle mob lynching.
In April 2017, along with the FIR against the people who allegedly lynched Pehlu Khan, the police had also registered a case related to cattle smuggling against his two sons and a truck operator.
The Gehlot government faced criticism recently after a charge sheet was filed in that case.
The police then approached the court, saying it wanted to reinvestigate the cattle smuggling charge, a plea that the court accepted.
Apart from the six men acquitted on Wednesday and the three minors, the police initially investigated the role of six others in Pehlu Khan’s lynching.
Those six men were given a clean chit by the police in September 2017.
The charge sheet was filed in the court of ADJ-Behror on February 25, 2018. The case was later shifted to the Alwar court.
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