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Chief judicial magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri sentenced the actor to five years in prison for killing two blackbucks, capping a 20-year case that began with a late night safari outside the tourist city of Jodhpur on the sidelines of a film shoot in 1998.
“The accused is a popular actor whose deeds are followed by people. Despite this, the accused hunted two blackbucks,” Khatri said in his written judgment.
The defence had argued that Salman has not been convicted in any case earlier and that he has always appeared before the court on the given date.
The defence counsel also said Salman was under the custody of forest department for five days and he should be given the benefit of the Probation of Offenders Act.
But the court refused to give Salman the benefit citing the circumstances of the case and gravity of the offence, according to a copy of the judgement.
“…considering the rising number of cases of illegal hunting of wildlife animals, looking at the circumstances of the case and gravity of the offence, giving the benefit of Probation of Offender Act does not appear justified,” the judge said.
The defence also said the accused is an actor and his sentencing will affect the livelihood of several families. Opposing this, the prosecution said the actor has committed an offence of serious nature.
The prosecution also mentioned the hit-and-run case against him in Mumbai and other cases while requesting for the maximum punishment.
The verdict triggered a deluge of sympathy from colleagues for the “bad boy” of Hindi filmdom, whose career and personal life have been peppered with controversies, including a manslaughter charge in a hit-and-run case that is still pending.
“I feel bad. He should be given relief. He has done a lot of humanitarian work,” actor-politician Jaya Bachchan told reporters outside Parliament in New Delhi, adding that the punishment was harsh.
Since morning, media crews, hundreds of stargazers and security personnel swarmed the court premises waiting for Salman and the other accused to show up. Large crowds armed with phone cameras lined up along the 2-kilometre route from the court as the 52-year-old was whisked away in a Bolero police jeep to spend a night in the Jodhpur Central Jail. Within hours, social media was awash with photographs of Salman, dressed in a black shirt and jeans, entering the jail.
Animal rights activists welcomed the sentencing, and some said Salman should have been given the maximum punishment under the Wildlife Act.
“We are happy that justice has prevailed and a serial offender is behind bars. The judiciary has once again proved that the popularity of the accused has no bearing on the case before the court,” said Gauri Maulekhi of People For Animals.
As the sentence is more than three years, Salman will have to appeal in a higher court for bail. His lawyer, Anand Desai, said the sessions court will hear the appeal for suspension of the sentence/bail at 10.30am tomorrow. Salman has consistently denied shooting the two deer, as claimed by the prosecution.
Jail sources said Salman was lodged in barrack number 2 in a heavily protected and secure cell. He would have to spend at least one night in the jail until his bail hearing tomorrow.
This is Salman’s fourth stint in the Jodhpur Central Jail, which also houses religious preacher Asaram Bapu, who has been accused of rape. He had earlier spent a total of 18 days in the jail in 1998, 2006 and 2007, all for cases of poaching.