NEW DELHI, April 6 — Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, now Prisoner 106, will have to spend at least another night in jail as he fights a five-year prison term for killing endangered wildlife.
Salman, one of the world’s highest paid actors, was imprisoned yesterday after a court convicted him for killing rare antelopes known as black bucks on a hunting trip while shooting a movie in 1998.
Salman’s lawyer asked for bail but the plea was adjourned after a judge said he wanted to see the entire case record.
“We argued for bail in the court. Basically the eyewitness is not reliable … the trial court has convicted Salman on the basis of basically just one eyewitness,” Mahesh Bora, a lawyer for Khan, told reporters in Jodhpur, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
The court is to sit again tomorrow.
The 52-year-old action star has denied killing the black bucks.
His conviction shocked fans and the Bollywood elite.
Hundreds flocked to his home in Mumbai to show solidarity with the star who moved from his luxury apartment to sleeping on the floor of a cell in the Jodhpur Central Jail.
“Everyone knows that he is used to the lavish lifestyle, which is why he was unable to sleep,” the Deccan Herald newspaper said, quoting an unnamed jail official.
“He laid down on blankets spread on the floor. He hardly slept. At 6am in the morning, the sound of siren woke him up.”
Wave of sympathy
Jail Superintendent Vikram Singh said no special arrangements have been made for Salman who is now Prisoner 106 and was served a dinner of lentils and cabbage like other inmates on his first night.
“He has a simple wooden bed, a rug and a cooler in his cell,” Singh told reporters.
Salman has accused Rajasthan’s forest department of trying to frame him.
His lawyers claim the black bucks died of natural causes such as overeating, claiming there was no evidence the animals were shot.
Four other Bollywood stars — Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari — who were also accused in the case were acquitted for lack of evidence.
“The prosecution has proved beyond doubt the case of hunting two black bucks against Salman but the case against the other accused does not prove beyond doubt,” the trial court judge said in his judgement.
Film industry analysts say Khan has nearly US$90 million (RM348 million) riding on him with at least three big projects in the pipeline.
The case, which has dogged Khan for 20 years, has seen him held in custody three times before.
In 1998, Salman spent a week in prison after being accused of using unlicensed arms to shoot the black bucks.
Salman was also found guilty of killing gazelles on the same trip and served very brief stints in jail in 2006 and 2007, but was later acquitted on appeal.
The actor affectionately called “bhai”, or “brother” in Hindi, enjoys a cult-like status with the majority of his devotees young men who envy Salman’s glamorous lifestyle.
The latest verdict has triggered a wave of sympathy for the “bad boy” of Hindi cinema whose life has been dogged by controversies.
Salman, who has had a string of glamorous relationships but never married, was cleared in 2015 of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run accident. That decision is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.
He was also accused of assaulting a former Miss World and provoked a firestorm in 2016 by saying his workout schedule for a film left him feeling “like a raped woman”.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do, waiting for tiger to be back,” tweeted actor Maniesh Paul, referring to Khan’s most recent blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai (Tiger is Alive) which has earned more than US$85 million worldwide.
Other Bollywood figures have also rallied around the actor, voicing support and decrying the harsh sentence. — AFP