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A trial court in Jodhpur on Thursday, April 5, convicted Bollywood star Salman Khan in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case and sentenced him to five years in jail.

Other accused in the case, including film stars Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Tabu, were let off by the court due to lack of strong evidence against them. A fifth person, Dushyant Singh, a local who was allegedly accompanying the actors when the poaching took place, has also been acquitted, Mahipal Bishnoi, the prosecution counsel, said, according to a report in The India Express.

The actor’s lawyers will now approach the Rajasthan High Court for bail in the case, the IE report said. An earlier report said Salman’s lawyers had moved bail application in sessions court. For now, however, Salman Khan would be taken to Jodhpur Central Jail and would have to spend time till he gets bail.

Jodhpur District Presiding Officer Devkumar Khatri pronounced Salman guilty of killing two blackbucks, which are an endangered species, on October 1, 1998 during a hunting expedition near Jodhpur, Rajasthan. A penalty of Rs 10,000 has also been levied on him.

Co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Tabu were present in court during pronouncement of the verdict. There are two other accused in the case — travel agent Dushyant Singh and Dinesh Gawre, Salman’s assistant at the time. Gawre is still absconding.

The Bishnoi Sabha, a community committed to protect the blackbucks, has decided to appeal against other acquittals.

News agency ANI quoted Rampal Bhawad, the State President of Bishnoi Tigers Vanya Evam Paryavaran Sanstha, as saying that an immediate appeal will be filed over the acquittals of Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari. “We’ll analyse the judgment. We want an immediate appeal to be filed against those who have been acquitted and we also demand maximum punishment for Salman Khan,” he said.

The actors are accused of killing two blackbucks in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the intervening night of October 1 and 2, 1998. The actors were in the city for the shooting of the film ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’.

Salman, 52, had earlier pleaded innocence in the case, claiming before the court that the blackbuck died of “natural causes” and he was being “framed”.

Salman is facing charges under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the other actors have been charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code. Maximum punishment under Section 51 is six years.

HM Saraswat, the defence counsel for Salman Khan, said there are many loopholes in the prosecution’s case and the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond any doubt.

“Prosecution has failed to prove allegations against the accused and has engaged in tampering and fabricating evidences and documents as well as roping in fake witnesses to prove the case. It has even failed to prove that black bucks were killed by gunshots. Hence such investigation cannot be trusted upon,” Saraswat said during final arguments on March 28.

This is last of the three poaching cases against Salman from 1998 that is being heard at Jodhpur trial court.

The actor was earlier convicted and sentenced to prison in two of three poaching cases by a trial court. The two cases were related to poaching Chinkara, while the third and last case decided today was to do with blackbuck.

Two separate cases had been registered against the actor under section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, for poaching of two chinkaras in Bhawad village on September 26-27, 1998, and one chinkara in the Mathania area on September 28-29, 1998.

The trial court had convicted Salman Khan in both the cases, sentencing him to one year and five years in prison on February 17, 2006, and April 10, 2006, respectively. The convictions were finally overturned by the Rajasthan High Court which acquitted the actor.

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