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Death penalty hangs over trio for repeat rape

Mumbai, April 3: A fast-track court in Mumbai today held three common convicts in the two Shakti Mills gang rape cases guilty of repeat offence — the first such conviction under the new law — setting the stage for the prosecution to demand the death penalty.

Convicting the three — Vijay Jadhav, 19, Quasim Bengali, 21, and Mohammad Salim Ansari, 28, — principal sessions judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi said: “The section is not just for the purpose of repeat offenders, but to send out a strong message to like-minded persons in the society. The legislature clearly wants such tendencies to be curbed.”

Under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which was brought in after the December 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old on a Delhi bus, the punishment for a repeat offence of rape is imprisonment for rest of life or death.

When the defence lawyers explained the verdict to the trio, their family members present in the court broke down.

The court will pronounce the quantum of sentence tomorrow after hearing arguments from the prosecution and the defence.

A photojournalist and a telephone operator had been gang-raped — in separate incidents in August and July last year — at the abandoned Shakti Mills compound near Mahalaxmi.

Two weeks ago, the court had found four men guilty in each case, with three common to both. It had also sentenced the four found guilty of assaulting the telephone operator to imprisonment for the rest of their natural lives.

As soon as the sentencing was completed in that case, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had sought to frame an additional charge under 376 (E) of the IPC against the three common convicts for the repeat offence of raping the photojournalist.

The defence had objected to the framing of the fresh charge, arguing that the court had already convicted the accused in both the cases.

Rejecting the argument, the court had observed that the trio had been previously convicted under 376 (D) (gang rape) and that Section 376 (E) provides for prosecution to seek enhanced punishment for repeat offence. The fresh charge was framed on March 24.

Challenging the constitutional validity of Section 376 (E), the defence had moved Bombay High Court, seeking a stay on the trial. The high court had refused to intervene at that stage, and allowed the sessions court to proceed with the trial.

It, however, raised certain broader questions on the applicability of Section 376 (E) and sought a reply from the attorney general of India within six weeks.

The quantum of punishment for the fourth convict in the photojournalist’s case, Siraj Rehman, will also be decided tomorrow.

What the law says

Section 376 (E) under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, states: “Whoever has been previously convicted of an offence punishable under section 376 or section 376A or section 376D (gang rape) and is subsequently convicted of an offence punishable under any of the said sections shall be punished with imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, or with death.”