MUMBAI/NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – An Indian court jailed Bollywood star Salman Khan for five years for poaching yesterday, lawyers said, a sentence likely to derail the career of one of the country’s most popular actors.
Khan, 52, was found guilty of violating wildlife laws by killing a blackbuck, an endangered species of antelope, in 1998. Four other Bollywood actors accused in the case were acquitted.
The stocky Khan wore a black shirt and sunglasses as he entered the court followed by an entourage of aides. Television footage later showed police escorting him to jail in Jodhpur, in the western state of Rajasthan.
Television said Khan planned to appeal against the sentence. His lawyer, Anand Desai, told Reuters he had submitted a plea for bail which a judge will hear tomorrow.
The case was brought by members of a community known as the Bishnoi, who revere antelopes. The community has pursued the case against Khan for almost two decades and cheered the decision by setting off firecrackers near the courthouse and handing out sweets.
Four other Bollywood actors accused in the case – Saif Ali Khan, Neelam, Tabu and Sonali Bendre – were acquitted, prosecution lawyer Mahipal Bishnoi said.
Some actors came out in Khan’s support. “I feel this is too harsh. I do hope he gets the relief he deserves,” Arjun Rampal said.
Khan has had a history of run-ins with the law.
In 2015, Bombay High Court overturned his conviction in a hit-and-run case in which he was accused of running over a group of people sleeping on a city sidewalk, killing one and injuring four.
Last year, another court in Jodhpur acquitted Khan in a separate poaching case, ruling that there was no proof that Khan had killed an endangered gazelle.
Khan has made a series of blockbuster hits in the last few years with the latest in December, “Tiger Zinda Hai”, grossing more than 3 billion rupees ($52 million) at the box office.
His next film, “Race 3”, is an action thriller scheduled for release later in the year.
The court’s ruling against Khan, who has 32.5 million followers on Twitter and was promoting his movie last week, sparked worries among Bollywood traders.
“If he doesn’t get bail, then the jail term will have repercussions,” said Girish Johar, a trade analyst. “He is a big star, and has a lot of big films lined up, all scheduled to be released over the next two years.”