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Prosecution failed to produce adequate evidence, says magistrate

 ~By Sujit Bhar

The court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Jodhpur district on January 18 acquitted Bollywood star Salman Khan of all charges in the 1998 arms case linked with the poaching of two blackbucks in the Kankani village of the area on October 1-2 that year.

The case had gained huge publicity because of two reasons. The first was the hunting of blackbucks. Blackbuck is considered “Near Threatened” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and hence its hunting is banned. Secondly, the prosecution had alleged that two firearms were found on Salman—a 0.22 rifle and 0.32 revolver—and licences for both had expired.

In the arms issue, cases were filed under Sections 3/25 and 3/27, the former carrying a maximum sentence of three years while the latter of seven years.

Interestingly, as defence counsel HM Saraswat said: “The court admitted our arguments that Khan was framed in this case as he had no concrete evidence against him.” That prompted the magistrate to give Salman the benefit of the doubt. The prosecution made expected noises, its counsel BS Bhati saying they would appeal in the sessions court.

The star’s reaction was muted. In a tweet from his handle ‏@BeingSalmanKhan he said: “Thank you for all the support and good wishes.”

Salman had arrived in Jodhpur on January 17 in a chartered plane with his sister Alvira and his advocates. He was present in court on January 18 when the CJM pronounced his verdict. The court took minutes to give the verdict.

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The defence counsel had argued that Salman had been framed by the forest department. And while the prosecution argued that there was enough evidence against the actor in the use and possession of the arms with an expired license, the CJM seemed unconvinced while he gave his judgement.

Even in the blackbuck hunting case, Salman has already had Rajasthan High Court acquittals (in July last year) in two Chinkara (blackbuck or Indian antelope) poaching cases of 2006. There is a third poaching case against him, now in its final stages.

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In the poaching case, the trial court had convicted Salman to one and five years, in the two cases related to the killing of three Chinkaras on two separate occasions.

The first case (2006) referred to an incident on September 26, 1998, when Salman had allegedly shot two Chinkaras in Bhawad near Jodhpur. At the time, he was shooting the film, Hum Saath Saath Hain. In that case, he received a one-year imprisonment verdict and a fine of Rs 5,000. Two days later, Salman allegedly shot dead another Chinkara in Ghoda farms.

Among the others charged in the incident were Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam.

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