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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Salman Khan faces another rough night in jail

Court postpones bail hearing of Bollywood star convicted of poaching

Fans of Bollywood star Salman Khan stand outside Jodhpur Central Jail, where the actor is being held on April 6, 2018. AFP
Fans of Bollywood star Salman Khan stand outside Jodhpur Central Jail, where the actor is being held on April 6, 2018. AFP

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, now Prisoner 106, faced a second night in jail on Friday as he fights a five-year prison term for killing endangered wildlife.

Khan, one of the world's highest-paid actors, was imprisoned on Thursday after a court convicted him for killing rare antelopes known as blackbucks on a hunting trip in 1998.

Khan'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 north-western state of Rajasthan.

The court is to sit again on Saturday.

The 52-year-old action star has denied killing the blackbucks.

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."

Jail superintendent Vikram Singh said no special arrangements were made for Khan, 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," Mr Singh said.

Khan has accused Rajasthan's forest department of trying to frame him.

His lawyers claim the blackbucks 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 - were acquitted for lack of evidence.

"The prosecution has proved beyond doubt the case of hunting two blackbucks against Salman but the case against the other accused does not prove beyond doubt," the trial court judge said.

Film industry analysts say Khan has nearly $90 million (Dh330m) 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, he spent a week in prison after being accused of using unlicensed arms to shoot the blackbucks.

Khan 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 fans being young men who envy his 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.

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Read more: Salman Khan's popularity unlikely to take a hit

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Khan, 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 $85m worldwide.

Other Bollywood figures have also rallied around the actor, voicing support and decrying the harsh sentence.