Indian guru jailed for 10 years on rape charges amid intense security

August 28, 2017 2:28 pm

In this May 17, 2017 photo, Indian popular guru and actor Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh attends the premiere of one of his movies in New Delhi, . (Photo by AP)

An Indian court has sentenced Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a controversial popular guru whose conviction has sparked some deadly street protests, to 10 years in prison for raping two of his devotees.
Defense lawyer Utsav Singh Bains said on Monday that the sentence was pronounced at a makeshift court in the town of Rohtak in the northern state of Haryana. 
“Ram Rahim has been sentenced to 10 years in jail,” media outlets quoted Bains as saying.
The lawyer stressed that he would seek a longer sentence and asked India’s federal investigations bureau to investigate dozens more alleged cases of abuse.
“We will file two appeals shortly. One for enhancement of the punishment and another for further investigation into the case,” Bains added, noting, “We believe there are at least 48 more victims who were sexually abused and who may have been killed or are too scared to come out and testify against Ram Rahim.”
Singh, 50, a self-styled spiritual leader was convicted on Friday of raping two women at the sprawling headquarters of his hugely popular Dera Sacha Sauda sect in Haryana, in a case dating back more than 15 years.
Prior to the verdict, thousands of police enforced a lockdown in large parts of the states of Haryana and Punjab, where Singh has a mass following.
    A judge was flown in by helicopter to sentence the spiritual leader.
    Police in Haryana issued orders to shoot protesters on sight ahead of the sentencing and ordered the hearing to be carried out inside the prison where Singh was being held.
    An estimated 200,000 members of Singh’s Dera Sacha Sauda movement had gathered in the city of Panchkula in a show of support a day before his verdict.
    Authorities have clamped intense security on the city of Rohtak, where Singh is being held due to fears of a repeat of Friday’s violence. Mobile internet has been cut, roads barricaded with barbed wire and soldiers deployed to man checkpoints in Rohtak.
    Rohtak police chief Navdeep Singh Virk said over 100 of Singh’s senior loyalists had been placed in detention as a precautionary measure.
    The police chief stressed that his officers would use “whatever force is required” against the guru’s devotees should they again resort to violence. “If the situation so arises that (we) need to use firearms, my officers have complete authority.”
    On Friday, hundreds of the guru’s followers went on the rampage, attacking train stations, buses and television vans. At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 others injured.
    Violent protests followed across his power base in Haryana, which borders the capital New Delhi. 

    Supporters of Indian popular guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh throw stones at security forces next to burning vehicles during clashes in Panchkula on August 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

    The violence also triggered a criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, which also governs the state of Haryana, was either unable or unwilling to act against Singh’s followers.
    Modi said Sunday that his government would not tolerate violence as even people in New Delhi began to feel it.
    “Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form,” Modi said in his monthly radio address, adding, “Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are.”
    Singh counted film stars, cricketers and politicians among his legions of supporters. But the most devoted were the vast numbers of ordinary Indians who flocked to the sprawling headquarters of his controversial sect in Haryana to hear his teachings.
    India has been rocked by numerous scandals involving popular ascetics claiming to possess mystical powers.
    Singh’s sect describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organization.
    Official estimates suggest Sing has a popular base of about 200,000 devotees. The guru has starred in films and claims to have 50 million followers. His loyalists say charges against Rahim Sing are part of a bigger conspiracy while the government has faced criticism for underestimating the risk posed by the followers.
    Singh also stood trial for conspiracy over the murder in 2002 of a journalist investigating the rape allegations. He denied the charge and the case is ongoing.
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