An Indian spiritual guru with millions of followers was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for raping a teenage girl.
Asaram Bapu, one of India's most charismatic and controversial "godmen," was sentenced at a closed hearing inside the prison where he is being held in the city of Jodhpur due to concerns his followers may resort to violence.
The trial was the most recent in a string of high-profile rape cases in India that have sparked public protests and raised questions about how law enforcers handle rapes and treat victims.
The 77-year-old self-styled religious preacher, who urges followers to live a life free of sexual desires, has repeatedly denied raping a then 16-year-old girl five years ago during a spiritual retreat.
In response to outrage over recent rapes and killings of young girls and other attacks on children, the Indian government approved the death penalty last week for convicted rapists of children under the age of 12.
The move to introduce the death penalty is seen as an effort to signal the government's commitment to fight crimes against young girls and infants as it comes under mounting criticism for not doing enough to tackle what some call India's epidemic of sexual violence.
The government order also said more fast-track courts will be established for speedy trials and it set a two-month time limit on investigations.
Indian cities in recent weeks saw street protests by agonized citizens after details emerged about the horrific gang rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kashmir in January, who was kidnapped, drugged, and raped for days and then murdered. Anger grew because Hindu activists had demonstrated in support of the eight arrested men who are now being tried in a fast-track court.