A special CBI court in Panchkula on Thursday sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to life imprisonment in the murder case of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati.
The court also sentenced his three close aides, Krishan Lal, Kuldeep Singh and Nirmal Singh, who were also found guilty of the murder of Chhatrapati in 2002, to life imprisonment.
Ram Rahim's life imprisonment will begin after the completion of the 20-year jail term in the rape cases for which he was convicted earlier.
CBI counsel H.P.S. Verma told media that Ram Rahim will have to remain in prison for life following Thursday's judgment.
Ram Rahim and the three others were convicted by the CBI court on January 11. All the four were convicted under Section 302 (murder) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The judgement came over 16 years after the murder of the journalist.
"The punishment is satisfactory. We had to fight a lot to get him punished," Anshul Chhatrapati, son of the slain journalist told media after the sentencing.
Ram Rahim is already lodged in Sunaria jail near Rohtak after his conviction on August 25, 2017 for the rape of two women disciples. He was sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment in the case.
The judgement was delivered by judge Jagdeep Singh. The same judge had earlier convicted Ram Rahim in the rape case of two female disciples on August 25, 2017 and sentenced him to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.
The judge also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 each on Ram Rahim and others. Ram Rahim and the three others were convicted by the CBI court on January 11.
All the four were convicted under Section 302 (murder) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).The judgment came over 16 years after the murder of the journalist.
Arguments of lawyers of the CBI, Chhatrapati's family and the sect chief were held for over two hours. The sentencing came over two hours after that. The counsel for Ram Rahim pleaded for a lesser sentence, citing the social work being done by the sect.
Ram Rahim appeared before the court through video conferencing from the Sunaria Jail near Rohtak where he is lodged. The other three convicts appeared through video-conferencing from the Ambala jail.
Sources said Ram Rahim, 51, looked pale as he appeared before the court. Chhatrapati's son Anshul had demanded capital punishment for the disgraced self-styled godman.
Chhatrapati, who edited a newspaper in Sirsa, was shot five times on October 24, 2002. He died later that year on November 21 in a hospital in New Delhi.
He had published the letter of a 'sadhvi' (female disciple) of the sect, in which she had highlighted her sexual exploitation by the sect chief, in his local vernacular newspaper 'Poora Sach'.
The publication of the letter and other stories carried by Chhatrapati, which were critical of the activities of the sect and its chief, had upset Ram Rahim who asked his close aides to eliminate the journalist.
Security was heightened in parts of Haryana and Punjab ahead of the sentencing. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court complex in Panchkula's Sector 1, adjoining Chandigarh, was a virtual fortress on Thursday with strict checking of all people and vehicles coming to the area.
Anti-riot police was present in strength outside the court complex. The local administration imposed Section 144 Cr.PC in the area to prevent the assembly of five or more people.
The area around the Sunaria Jail near Rohtak, where Ram Rahim is lodged, was completely sealed by security personnel. Security was tightened in Haryana's Sirsa town, around 260 km from here, where the sect's headquarters is located.
Haryana Police personnel and three companies of paramilitary forces were statioed around the sect campus. The Punjab Police had also taken preventive security measures in the neighbouring state as the sect has lakhs of followers in Bathinda, Mansa, Moga and Sangrur.
Ram Rahim's conviction on August 25, 2017, had led to violence in Panchkula and Sirsa, leaving 41 people dead and over 260 injured. The court on Wednesday allowed authorities in Haryana to produce the disgraced sect chief and three others before it through video-conferencing for their sentencing.
Ram Rahim, who was patronized by political leaders and parties of Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades due to his ability to shift votes of his followers, is now lodged in jail following his conviction on two counts of rape of his female disciples.
The sect chief is also linked to the murder of former Dera manager Ranjit Singh (in July 2002). The matter is being heard by the CBI court.
Ranjit Singh, who was believed to be privy to wrongdoing in the sect headquarters, was shot dead in July 2003.
The sect chief suspected that Ranjit Singh was responsible for complaints of sexual exploitation of female disciples inside the sect campus coming out in the public.