Six men have been convicted, three of whom were sentenced to five years in prison, over the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic tribe in India-administered Kashmir's Kathua district.
Six men were convicted on Monday over the notorious 2018 gang rape and murder in India-administered Kashmir of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic tribe that provoked horror and stoked inter-religious tensions.
The six men from the southern Jammu region escaped the death sentence. However, the court handed three defendants a sentence of life in prison and others five years in jail.
The girl was drugged and held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.
Though the rape and killing of the girl in Kashmir had been known about for months, the backlash erupted months later after the charge sheet providing gruesome details of the crime was filed. The incident made national and global headlines, and also heightened communal tensions.
The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.
Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, fanning communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.
"This is a victory of truth," prosecution lawyer M Farooqi told reporters outside the court.
"The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment."
The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men –– priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar –– who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.
Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj, and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.
Two others charged in the case were policemen accused of taking bribes to stifle the case.
Appeal against verdict
A lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, AK Sawhney, told reporters they planned to appeal the verdict.
The trial, held in private, began over a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 70 km (44 miles) from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened, in India-administered 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 right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, held protests against police filing charges in court.
Ahead of the trial, the lawyer had said she had been threatened with rape and death for taking up the case.
Some Hindu lawyers, last year, had tried to stop police from entering the court to file charges against the eight accused.
Two state ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, later resigned for joining a rally by local Hindu groups in defence of the accused.
Asifa Bano's gang rape and murder triggered widespread condemnation in India, but is the debate missing the context? pic.twitter.com/NhYxCaj5PX— TRT World (@trtworld) April 22, 2018
India has long been plagued by violence against women and children - reported rapes climbed 60 percent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.
In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a young woman in the heart of New Delhi prompted hundreds of thousands of Indians to take to the streets to demand stricter rape laws.
The New Delhi attack spurred quick action on legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalising voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.
But activists say crimes of violence against women are often inadequately investigated, and in some cases accused with political connections have been protected.