After a legal battle that lasted nearly 20 years, a popular Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has been sentenced to serve five years in prison after being convicted of illegal poaching in a decades-old case, prosecutors said on Thursday.
Khan was accused by members of the Bishnoi religious sect in western India of shooting at a group of rare black-and-white antelope on a hunting trip while filming a movie in 1998.
The 52-year-old baby-faced leading man was found guilty of killing two blackbucks, a type of antelope found in the country, while working on a film in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan. He was also fined 10,000 Indian rupees ($150).
Bhawani Singh, a public prosecutor working on the case, told reporters outside the court that Khan can appeal the decision to a higher court. If Khan’s appeal is accepted, he could be granted bail or have his sentence suspended.
Salman Khan, one of India’s most popular actors, was found guilty of killing two rare antelopes in 1998https://t.co/Ka5KI2mONv
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) April 6, 2018
Prosecutors alleged the 52-year-old shot the two blackbucks while out driving with some of his co-stars.
Khan pleaded not guilty and has long maintained his innocence as the case has languished in legal limbo over the years. Khan’s lawyers said he was carrying an air gun, which cannot be used for hunting an antelope.
The other actors, Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari, were charged with abetting a crime but were acquitted Thursday, Singh said.
Bollywood star Salman Khan has been sentenced to prison for poaching pic.twitter.com/sYvTqFC7Pe
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) April 5, 2018
Anand Desai, a lawyer for Khan, said in a statement that his client has applied for an urgent hearing to the case in a higher court, which will be heard Friday morning.
“We are studying the judgment — it just came as a surprise, as the entire investigation, and facts of this case were the same as those for which Salman has been acquitted by Hon’ble (Honorable) High Court of Rajasthan in two cases,” he said.
The verdict comes as a surprise to many who say Khan’s connections got him out of trouble in the past. The actor was previously acquitted of two separate poaching cases and of a hit-and-run manslaughter charge in 2015.
“There’s a sense in India that the rich and mighty can get away from the law.… Today, finally there’s a sense of justice being done,” said one news anchor as she announced the verdict.
Khan’s fans thronged outside the courtroom hoping to catch a glimpse of the actor on his way in, and police ramped up security, Indian media reported.