Yesterday, 11 convicts walked out of a jail in Godhra. All of them had been handed life sentences in 2008 for gangraping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots and murdering 14 of her family members, including her three-year-old child.
The convicts were garlanded and handed sweets, having served over 15 years in jail. They were released after one of them moved the Supreme Court with a plea for premature release. The apex court had then asked the Gujarat government to consider a remission of his sentence.
How did leading English newspapers cover it this morning?
In Delhi, page 1 of the Indian Express had this headline: "Her case convicts feted, Bilkis says leave me alone, husband numb". Her husband Yakoob Rasool said they were "numb, shocked and shaken".
"The battle we fought for so many years has been wrapped up in one moment," he said, adding that they now wanted to be "left alone and settle down for our five children.
Express also on the remission: "The remission in a case that lies at the heart of the continuing search for justice after the communal violence in Gujarat 2002 portends a disquieting backsliding...It is a grave setback for the tortuous legal battle to secure convictions in the horrific crimes of 2002 in the face of formidable obstacles and powerful odds."
The Times of India in Delhi had a short piece on page 1 with coverage continuing on page 17. This included a two-column report with quotes from some of the released convicts.
Headlined "We’re victims of politics: 2002 Guj riots convicts", it had one Radheshyam Shah asserting their innocence: "We were framed up because of our belief in certain ideology." Many papers carried Shah's comments too.
The Telegraph in Kolkata had it as a small column on page 1. The main story was devoted to what Indian and Indian-origin writers had said about India on the occasion of Independence Day, curated by PEN America, a free speech watchdog.
Most of page 5 was devoted to this story, including condemnation by the opposition and reactions from Bilkis's husband, as told to PTI. "We were surprised to learn [from media reports] that the convicts have been released," said Yakoob Rasool. "...We never received any kind of notice and were not told about this."
The Kochi edition of the Hindu had the news as a small column on page 1, focusing on how the state government had relied on a 1992 policy instead of its revised policy of 2014 which "would have made the ineligible for remission. The 2014 policy bars out-of-turn release of prisoners convicted for rape and murder."
The Hindu also , headlined "Remission without reform".
"It defies logic that those convicted for direct involvement in the rape of three women, the murder of a three-year-old and six others can be considered candidates for premature release under any remission policy," the editorial said.
Premature release should be "based on a legal and constitutional scheme, and not on a ruler’s whimsy", it added, pointing out that the assembly election in Gujarat takes place at the end of the year. "While the benefit of remission ought not to be denied to anyone without a ray of hope that they will be free one day, it is a power to be exercised with discretion and wisdom."
Page 1 of Hindustan Times in Delhi was crammed with news. Its top stories were FIFA suspending India as a member and the deaths of at least seven ITBP personnel in a bus crash in Srinagar. The Bilkis Bano case figured in the bottom half of the page, described as a "political controversy" and focusing on opposition responses.
The story continued on page 11, headlined "Row erupts over rapists' release". It also compared the 2014 policy o the 1992 policy, under which release was sanctioned, and quoted the additional chief secretary as saying, "The remittance application was considered on merit. It is also under the domain of the state government."
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.