JODHPUR, India (Reuters) - Bollywood star Salman Khan lost an appeal on Friday against a conviction for shooting an endangered species of gazelle, and must now go to jail.
Khan went on a series of hunting trips in the desert state of Rajasthan in 1998 with several celebrity friends while shooting a movie, and was convicted in 2006 for killing several endangered species of antelope protected under wildlife laws.
The muscular, 41-year-old actor, who likes to appear bare-chested in his movies, is alleged to have slit the throat of the chinkara -- a type of gazelle -- he had shot before giving it to chefs at his luxury hotel to cook.
The chinkara killing earned him five years in prison, of which he served three days before being bailed while he appealed.
That appeal failed on Friday. Khan was not present at his appeal hearing in the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur in western India, and so must either surrender or face arrest.
Khan will now appeal to an even higher court, probably early next week, said one of his lawyers, Dipesh Mehta.
Khan, meanwhile, has several other cases hanging over him.
He was also convicted in 2006 for killing protected blackbuck antelopes during the Rajasthan hunting trips, and given a one-year jail sentence.
He was granted bail while he appeals against that conviction, but has also been charged with other counts of killing wildlife and of breaking gun laws.
He is also under trial for killing a person sleeping on a pavement in Mumbai while driving drunk in 2002. He has denied being at the wheel.
The court’s decision is bad news for the producers of the three films Khan is shooting, who have about 1 billion rupees (12,000 pounds) riding on Khan being able to keep out of jail and wrap up production, according to film analyst Taran Adarsh.
Khan’s lawyers could not agree why their client did not make it to court -- one said he could not get a flight; another said Khan did not need to be present at the court.
They had earlier said Khan was filming in the southern city of Hyderabad, but media reports say he flew back to Mumbai on Thursday and was at home.
Khan’s publicist would not speak on the record.
“STARS NOT ABOVE THE LAW”
Conservationists were delighted with the verdict, saying they hoped it would deter others from killing India’s endangered wildlife.
“It sends a very clear message that all these high-profile people -- Bollywood stars, socialites and politicians -- are not above the law when it comes to wildlife crimes,” said Belinda Wright, head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
The case may have never made it to court were it not for vigorous protests from Rajasthan’s Bishnoi community, a Hindu group that treats wildlife with extreme reverence.
The Bishnois were praised for their steadfast consistency throughout the trial even as other witnesses changed their testimony -- a common occurrence in the trials of the rich and influential in India.
Khan is not the only big star to be sent to prison recently.
Sanjay Dutt, another Bollywood actor, was jailed for six years last month for getting guns from gangsters behind the deadly bombings in Mumbai in 1993. He has since been released on bail while he appeals.
Dutt’s sentencing provoked a wave of sympathy from the Bollywood fraternity -- a film premiere was cancelled, film shoots were halted, many actors visited his family home and some nightclubs called off weekend parties.
By contrast, the reaction to Khan’s case has been muted. About a dozen friends and colleagues -- or their agents -- either would not comment when contacted or failed to keep their promise to call back. Three actors have so far visited Khan’s home.
Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla in New Delhi and Prithwish Ganguly in Mumbai
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