NEW DELHI, April 5 (Xinhua) -- A court in India Thursday sentenced leading Bollywood actor Salman Khan to five years in jail for poaching rare antelopes in western state of Rajasthan nearly two decades back.
The court handed down the sentence to the 52-year-old actor, hours after convicting him of killing the two blackbucks, a protected species, near a remote village in Rajasthan's city of Jodhpur late on October 1 night in 1998 while shooting a movie.
Four other actors who starred with him in the movie, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam, have, however, been acquitted by the court in Jodhpur on "benefit of doubt" even though all of them were charged with the same offence by prosecutors.
This is the fourth case filed against Khan in connection with poaching wild animals during the filming of the popular movie, Hum Saath Saath Hain. He has been acquitted in the other three cases by various courts.
While convicting Khan in the latest case, who flew in to Jodhpur in a private jet, Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri called him "a habitual offender".
"Khan has been held guilty under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. He has been given five-year prison term. All other accused have been let off on benefit of doubt," a lawyer told the media outside the court.
"He can apply for bail. But for the time being, he will be sent to jail," he added.
The killing of the two blackbucks took place in a forest close to a village of Bishnois, a community that protects and worships blackbucks. Villagers claim they had chased the vehicles in which the actors were present after hearing gunshots and finding the carcasses of the deer.
The actor's defense lawyers, however, insist there is no forensic evidence to corroborate the claims that the two blackbucks were killed by gunshots.
Khan is one of Bollywood's biggest stars who has starred in more than 100 films. But he is no stranger to controversies. He has been embroiled in various cases, including a hit-and-run case, and he was jailed twice in these cases in April 2006 and in August 2007.
However, in December 2015, he was acquitted by a court in the 2002 hit-and-run case in which a homeless man died and few others sustained injuries.
The actor insists he's innocent.