Mumbai double gang-rapists jailed for life

MUMBAI - An Indian court handed down life sentences Friday to three gang-rapists who attacked a photographer and a phone operator in an abandoned mill compound in the centre of Mumbai.

Mohammed Salim Ansari, Vijay Mohan Jadhav and Mohammed Kasim Hafeez Shaikh were given the sentences a day after their conviction for the attacks in July and August last year which triggered worldwide headlines and reignited anger about women's safety in India.

"This court has to take a stern view of crimes against women so that a proper message is sent to society," Judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi told a packed hearing of the sessions court in south Mumbai.

The sentences handed down on Friday only relate to the gang-rape of the phone operator and the judge said that separate tariffs would be announced on Monday for the assault on the photo-journalist.

The men, sitting together at the back of the courtroom and surrounded by police, looked down and wept as their sentences were read out, while their relatives were heard crying.

A fourth man, Mohammed Ashwaq Sheikh, was also jailed for life over the telephone operator case, while another convicted in the photographer attack, Siraj Rehmat Khan, will learn his fate on Monday.

The five men were aged between 18 and 27 when they were arrested, and a juvenile suspect is being separately tried over the photographer case.

The phone operator came forward after reading about the photographer's ordeal in the same compound, which lies close to an upscale area of the city as well as slums from which most of the rapists hailed.

Police described the photographer's attackers as unemployed school drop-outs, while neighbours say they were a gang of youths known for petty theft and drinking in the area.

The case sparked anger in the city that is usually considered safer than the capital New Delhi, where an attack on a student in December 2012 sparked weeks of angry street protests about India's treatment of women and led to tougher laws for rapists and other sex offenders.