NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian court on Wednesday acquitted four Hindu men accused of bombing a train between India and Pakistan in 2007 that killed 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, citing a lack of evidence, defence lawyers said.
Pakistan’s acting foreign secretary described the ruling as a “travesty of justice”.
The ruling comes weeks after a sharp escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan after a suicide car bomb in Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary police. Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack.
The court in Haryana gave its verdict after dismissing a petition filed last week by the daughter of a Pakistani victim who wanted to get her statement recorded as a witness.
“Prosecution has failed to prove the case so the court acquitted all of them,” lawyer Mukesh Garg told reporters outside the court. “The court first rejected the application from a Pakistani lady.”
One of those declared not guilty is Swami Aseemanand, a self-styled Hindu holy man and former member of the nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent of India’s ruling party.
Aseemanand was jailed in 2010 after admitting his involvement in the attack on the train near Panipat, a city about 100 km (62 miles) north of Delhi. He later said he had been tortured to give a false statement.
Two coaches of the Samjhauta Express, a bi-weekly train that runs between New Delhi and Lahore in Pakistan, caught fire late on Feb. 19, 2007, after two improvised explosive devices exploded, according to a charge-sheet filed by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2013.
In all, the NIA had accused eight men of conducting what it described as a “dreadful terrorist act”. It said the group had been “angry with attacks on Hindu temples by jihadi terrorist activities”. One of the accused was murdered in December 2007 and three others absconded from justice.
Pakistan’s acting foreign secretary summoned the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad on Wednesday to protest the decision.
“Pakistan had consistently raised the lack of progress and the subsequent, concerted attempts by India to exonerate the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist act,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.
“The acquittal of the accused today, 11 years after the heinous Samjhauta Terror Attacks, makes a travesty of justice and exposes the sham credibility of the Indian Courts.”
Pakistan earlier questioned what it called India’s lack of action against the accused. India had responded by accusing Pakistan of failing to act against militant groups behind attacks in Mumbai in 2008, in which 166 people were killed.
Asaduddin Owaisi, an Indian lawmaker and prominent Muslim leader, criticised Wednesday’s verdict.
“68 dead and nothing to account for them, nothing to say that justice has been done,” he said in a tweet.
Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Saad Sayeed; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Hugh Lawson