Blackbuck case: Animal right activists welcome Salman conviction

Animal right groups on Thursday welcomed the sentencing of Bollywood star Salman Khan in a 1998 blackbuck killing case, asserting the verdict proved no one is above the law.

A section of activists however felt the actor should have been given the maximum punishment under the Wildlife Act.

Khan, sentenced to five years in jail by a Jodhpur court on Thursday, was taken to the central jail in the Rajasthan city after the verdict.

"The verdict shows, whether you are Salman Khan or an ordinary citizen, the facts will be heard by a court and the law will prevail," PETA India spokesperson Sachin Bangera said.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), People For Animals (PFA), Wildlife SOS and Humane Society were among the groups that welcomed the verdict.

Khan has also been fined Rs 10,000 for shooting down two blackbucks near Jodhpur on the night of October 1, 1998, while he and a group of other actors were in Rajasthan for the shooting of the film "Hum Saath Saath Hain".

"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," PFA trustee Gauri Maulekhi said.

Khan, had earlier been charged in other animal poaching cases.

Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is an ungulate species of antelope native to the Indian subcontinent that has been classified in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened animals.

According to the IUCN, their range declined sharply in the 20th century because of unsustainable hunting.

"Being human is all about showing respect for the life of others, which Salman Khan has repeatedly and frivolously taken for granted," Maulekhi said.

Khan was held guilty under Section 9/51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. Blackbucks are protected animals under Schedule I of the Act.

"It is highly unusual for a wildlife-related case to drag on like this. So, what other potential offenders can be sure of is that if they commit a crime against an animal, they will be booked. Salman, too, could have been given the maximum punishment under the Act," PETA India's Bangera said.

Baiju Raj M V, Director Conservation Projects, Wildlife SOS, described the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, as a very "progressive" law.

"If this conviction is established then it certainly makes it very clear that law and justice can be achieved for wildlife protection in our country. This conviction also show that everyone is equal and no one is above the law," he said.

A top forest official, who did not wish to be identified, said Khan should have been given the maximum punishment of six years under the law.

"Being a Schedule I species, and this being a high-profile case, a strong message would have been sent if the maximum sentence under the Wildlife Act was given," he said.

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