Photograph: freeimages.com/Marcelo Gerpe

Eleven people in India were sentenced to life in prison for murder on Friday for their roles in the Gulbarg Society massacre in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

Twelve others received sentences of seven years on lesser convictions, and one got 10 years, prosecutor RC Kodekar told reporters outside the court in Gujarat's principal city of Ahmedabad.

Judge PB Desai called the 2002 incident the "darkest day in the history of civil society," Kodekar said.

But he rejected the prosecution's demand for the death penalty for the 11 convicts, a punishment that is rarely applied in India

On February 28, 2002, a mob of Hindus killed 69 people in the Gulbarg Society, a Muslim neighbourhood located in Ahmedabad. The mob looted and burned homes and attacked people with knives and swords.

Both the prosecution and families of the victims said they were disappointed by the decision and would challenge it.

"There was no reason for such leniency. This is nothing but injustice," Zakia Jafri, the widow of lawmaker Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the attack, told reporters.

"I was there when Ehsan Jafri was killed ... The entire mob was involved in the massacre but only 11 have been given life sentences. Others have been let go with lesser sentences," she added.

The Ahmedabad court last week acquitted 36 of the total 66 accused over the incident, while six others died during the trial.

Among those acquitted was Bipin Patel, a politician in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that governed Gujarat state when the riots took place.

The clashes were part of a wave of sectarian violence in Gujarat in February and March 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

The riots broke out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was allegedly set on fire by a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra on February 27, killing 59 passengers.

The Gulbarg case is among 10 incidents being reviewed by a special investigation team that was set up by India's Supreme Court in 2008.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced questions over the riots in Gujarat, where he was state chief minister at the time.

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