India: Life sentence for three men in gang-rape murder of eight-year-old

Three men who kidnapped, drugged, gang-raped and murdered an eight-year-old girl in a case which sparked outrage across India have been spared the death penalty.

The Muslim girl, Asifa Bano, was drugged, held captive in a Hindu temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in Indian-controlled Kashmir in January 2018.

Prosecutors had asked for the three attackers to be executed for the gang rape and murder but they were today sentenced to life in prison in Pathankot, India, AFP reported.

Another three men – police personnel – were found to be complicit in the girls’ torture by taking bribes and destroying evidence and were jailed for five years, a district court ruled on Monday (local time).

Another male accused, who claims to be a juvenile, is yet to face trial as his plea on the determination of his age is yet to be heard. Times of India reported.

Asifa Bano was abducted from her Muslim nomadic tribe while out with her family’s ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills in Kathua.

Her body was found dumped in a forest. She had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly gang-raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled. Her rape and murder sparked outrage across the country.

India has struggled with horrifying cases of rape and murder involving children in recent years, and authorities are taking increasingly harsh measures against the culprits.

In the wake of Asifa Bano’s rape and murder, India passed legislation making the rape of girls under the age of 12 punishable by death.

The girl’s attackers were Sanjhi Ram, a retired public servant who was a custodian of the Hindu temple where the attack took place; family friend Parvesh Kumara; and special police officer Deepak Khajuria, who begged to rape the eight-year-old girl one more time before she was killed.

Police claimed Ram intricately planned the rape and murder and later paid local police officers 500,000 rupees (A$10,000) to create false evidence as part of efforts to lead investigators away from him and his associates.

The trial, which was held in private, began over a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 70 kilometres from Rasana village where the incident happened, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s Supreme Court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, held protests against police filing charges in court.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60 per cent to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

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