A Muzaffarnagar court Friday sentenced seven to life in prison for the murder of two cousins, Gaurav and Sachin, in Kawal village in 2013. The murders along with the killing of a third man, Shahnawaz in separate incidents on August 27, 2013, led to widespread violence across the district, in which 62 people died and more than 50,000 were displaced.

Two days after convicting them, Additional District and Sessions Judge Himanshu Bhatnagar rejected the prosecution’s demand for the death penalty and sentenced the seven youths to life in prison a life for murder with a fine of 2 lakh each as well as two years imprisonment for rioting, three years for rioting with deadly weapon and five years for criminal intimidation.

The convicted will be sent to the District Jail with immediate effect. A cumulative fine of Rs 12,000 has also been imposed on the convicts and the court ordered that eighty per cent of the fine will be given to the family of the victims as compensation under Section 357 of the CrPC.

Advocate Nasir Ali, the defence counsel for the accused, argued for the minimum quantum of punishment citing the poor economic background of one of the accused. The defence also said that the victims, Gaurav and Sachin, had first murdered Shahnawaz, which led to their killing by the angry crowd.

The prosecution argued that the act of murder was committed brutally and in cold blood. The repercussions of the double murder were felt by society on a large scale in the form of communal riots as 65 people were killed and property worth lakhs was damaged in its wake, the prosecution submitted.

One of the accused said, “we are appealing to the public that we are innocent” while being accompanied into the police van.

“The prosecution has been successful in obtaining a conviction in the case of Gaurav and Sachin’s murder. The police had gathered crucial circumstantial evidence. The eyewitness testimony also proved to be an important factor in the investigation. The families of the accused have the option of appealing in the High Court,” Sudhir Kumar Singh, Superintendent of Police (Muzaffarnagar) had said earlier.

For 6,000 cases lodged following the 2013 riots, 1,480 accused were arrested for their alleged roles in the riots, according to authorities.

An FIR had been filed in Jansath police station area in which five of the seven men had been initially accused of beating Gaurav and Sachin to death. The two other accused, Afzal and Iqbal, however, were summoned by the court later after evidence of their alleged involvement was highlighted.

This article first appeared on Indianexpress.com