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Judge sends Indian guru to jail for 10 years for rape
A judge on Monday sentenced a flamboyant and controversial Indian spiritual guru to 10 years in prison on charges of raping two female followers.
The sentence was pronounced amid intense security at a prison in the northern town of Rohtak where the guru, who calls himself Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan, has been held since his conviction Friday.
The conviction sparked violent protests by the guru's followers that left at least 38 people dead and hundreds injured.
Ahead of the sentencing announcement, train and bus services to Rohtak were suspended to prevent the guru's supporters from gathering in the town, located in Haryana state. A curfew was also imposed in the town.
Local police said that several layers of security were in place around the prison and that government troops had permission to use firearms if violence erupted. All cars entering the town were being searched.
The guru has denied raping the two followers, in a case that stems from charges filed in 2002.
Few details were immediately available following the sentencing, but the guru's lawyers can appeal the verdict in a higher court. The rape charges were investigated by India's Central Bureau of Investigation, and a special CBI court convicted and sentenced the guru.
Security was high Monday across Haryana and the neighboring state of Punjab, with schools and offices shut in many places.
A curfew was also in place in Sirsa town, where the sprawling main headquarters of the guru's Sacha Sauda sect are located. Since Saturday, police have been asking followers to leave the ashram compound, and around 20,000 people left. Local police spokesman Surjeet Singh said Monday that some people were still inside the compound, but that it was impossible to know how many.
He said about 4,000 government troops, including army and paramilitary soldiers, were patrolling the tiny town and the area outside the ashram.
When the guru was found guilty on Friday, tens of thousands of his enraged followers set fire to government buildings, vandalized bus stations and government vehicles, and attacked police and TV journalists in Panchkula, where the verdict was announced.
The sect claims to have about 50 million followers and campaigns for vegetarianism and against drug addiction. It also organizes blood-donation and tree-planting drives. Religious sects like the Dera Sacha Sauda have huge followings in India.
These sects and their leaders inspire intense devotion among their believers and also wield considerable political clout. Many maintain private militias for their protection.