Salman Khan: Bollywood superstar jailed for poaching

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Indian Bollywood actor Salman Khan (C) arrives at the airport in Jodhpur on April 4, 2018 ahead of a verdict in the long-running blackbuck poaching case. Indian actor Salman Khan is accused of poaching the protected blackbuck species in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan in September 1998, and the two-decade-long case has included co-defendants Sonali Bendre, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, and Neelam Kothari.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Khan can appeal against the verdict

An Indian court has sentenced Bollywood superstar Salman Khan to five years in jail for poaching rare antelope back in 1998.

The court in Jodhpur also fined him 10,000 rupees ($154; £109) for the crime. He has since been taken to jail.

Khan killed the two blackbucks, a protected species, in the western state of Rajasthan while shooting a film.

Four other actors who starred with him in the movie and were also charged with the offence have been acquitted.

Khan, 52, can appeal against the verdict in a higher court.

Correspondents say he will have to spend at least a few days in prison.

What is behind the Salman Khan case?

This is the fourth case filed against the actor in connection with poaching animals during the filming of the 1998 movie Hum Saath Saath Hain.

In 2006, a trial court convicted the actor in two cases of poaching and sentenced him separately to one year and five years in prison. The Rajasthan high court suspended the sentences the following year, and eventually quashed both convictions in 2016.

The state government has appealed against that order in the Supreme Court.

Khan was then acquitted of a third case in 2017, which was for possessing unlicensed weapons used to poach the wildlife in 1998.

The original poaching complaint against him was filed by the local Bishnoi community, who revere and worship the blackbuck.

Has he been accused of anything else?

In December 2015, Khan was cleared in a 2002 hit-and-run case in which a homeless man died and four others were in injured. His car allegedly ran over them while they were sleeping on a street in the western city of Mumbai.

A lower court had convicted him in May 2015. During his trial, Khan had argued that his driver had been behind the wheel, but the judge said it was the actor who had been driving under the influence of alcohol.

Seven months later, the high court acquitted him. It said that key evidence - including testimony from a policeman who had since died - was not reliable.

In January 2017, Khan was also acquitted in another case that charged him with using illegal firearms to kill the blackbucks.

How big is Salman Khan?

One of Bollywood's biggest stars, the actor has appeared in more than 100 films and has a huge fan following across the vast spectrum of Indian society.

His fans include the middle-class English-speaking audiences as well as poor slum dwellers for whom the 350-rupee ($5.20; £3.40) tickets do not come cheap.

Known for his romantic roles as well as action films, Khan has won several prestigious Indian cinema awards.

The eldest of the three sons of well-known screenplay writer Salim Khan, he is a hit on social media too - his Facebook page is liked by more than 36 million fans, while on Twitter he has 32.5 million followers.

Will it dent his popularity?

Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News, Delhi

Every day in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, fans flock to Salman Khan's apartment building to catch a glimpse of the Bollywood actor.

I once met a group of fans who had travelled more than five hours by bus to wait in the searing heat in the hope he would wave at them from his balcony.

His films continue to draw mass audiences across urban and rural India. In a country where Bollywood is revered, Khan is one of the most worshipped.

While his time in the spotlight has attracted praise and controversy in equal measure, this latest conviction is unlikely to dent his popularity or damage his career due to the cult-like status he enjoys.

What has the reaction been?

Khan's conviction is making waves on both mainstream and social media.

The hashtag #BlackBuckPoachingCase is the top trend on Twitter India while #Salman Khan is also trending.

Many of the tweets addressed the fact that the case has gone on for years.

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Others welcomed the verdict.

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Some celebrities, including friends of the actor, took Khan's side.

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However, most Bollywood actors have refrained from commenting.

Reality Check: How common are convictions for poaching in India?

Khan was convicted under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, the law that prohibits the hunting of hundreds of different species.

Black buck deer, tigers, lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and Tibetan antelope are among the species given the highest level of protection.

Punishment for first-time offenders can be imprisonment for up to seven years or a fine of up to 25,000 rupees (£276; $386), or both.

Figures from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau show 148 recorded convictions for offences under the Wildlife Protection Act in 2016. The records also show 2,096 pending cases awaiting trial, 207 cases which were discharged and a 71.5% conviction rate.

According to the State of India's Environment, the report published annually by the country's Centre for Science and Environment, there was a 52% spike in poaching and wildlife crimes between 2014 and 2016. More than 30,382 wildlife crimes were recorded in the country during that period.