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47 Indian policemen get life sentences for 1991 Sikh killings

A court in northern India has sentenced 47 policemen to life in prison over the massacre of Sikh pilgrims 25 years ago. The killings were committed during an insurgency by Sikh militants in the region.

Indian police patrol the Punjab city of Amritsar

Indian police patrol the Punjab city of Amritsar after Sikh clashes there in 2012

The court in Uttar Pradesh state announced Monday it had found the policemen guilty of murder, abduction and criminal conspiracy for their role in the killings on July 12, 1991.

Prosecutor Satish Jaiswal told reporters that 57 police officers had originally been charged in the case, but 10 of them had died during the trial.

According to court documents, the policemen stopped a bus of Sikh pilgrims in the Pilibhit region and ordered 10 male passengers to get off. The men were then divided into groups and taken into the jungle where they were shot and killed "in cold blood," the charge sheet said. Police later claimed the men were armed and dangerous Sikh militants.

In the 1980s and 1990s, India fought a violent insurgency by Sikh militants who wanted to establish their own independent homeland in the northern Punjab province. The conflict led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Campaigners say serious human rights abuses were carried out by Indian security forces deployed to quell the unrest.

India's Central Bureau of Investigation, charged with probing the 1991 case, said that the victims on the bus belonged to a group of around 25 pilgrims who had been traveling home after visiting a Sikh shrine in the western state of Maharashtra.

India's judicial system is notoriously slow, with some courts taking years before reaching a verdict. The policemen convicted on Monday were initially charged in 2003. They can appeal the guilty verdict in a higher court.

nm/jil (PTI, dpa)

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