Shoot-on-sight orders issued in India ahead of sentencing of rapist 'guru in bling'

Indian security personnel stands guard on one of the roads leading to the Sunaria Jail where self-styled guru and spiritual leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is kept, in Rohtak, India, on Aug 28, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

ROHTAK, India (Reuters) - Police in India issued orders on Monday (Aug 28) to shoot protesters on sight ahead of the sentencing of a self-styled guru whose conviction for rape triggered deadly clashes last week.

The guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was on Friday found guilty of raping two women in a 2002 case, sparking protests by his supporters in various parts of north India. At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 were injured.

Singh is due to be sentenced in Haryana state later on Monday. "We have issued shoot-on-sight orders if anyone tries to start a protest," said Mr Ram Niwas, a senior bureaucrat in Haryana in charge of law and order.

Singh's lawyer told Reuters his client was innocent and would appeal against his conviction.

Authorities imposed a curfew in several areas of Haryana and Punjab states, while the capital, New Delhi, is on alert.

Mr Niwas said Singh would not be taken to court to hear his sentence. Instead, the judge who convicted him would be flown to the jail where he is being held in Rohtak town.

The prison has been transformed into a fortress, with journalists banned from approaching closer than 1.6km and roads lined with barbed wire barricades.

"A library in the jail has been converted into a courtroom," said Mr Rajiv Pant, an official in charge of prisons.

There was also heavy security outside the headquarters of Singh's spiritual cult, Dera Sacha Sauda, a 400-hectare compound in Sirsa town in Haryana.

Thousands of his supporters are believed to be inside the compound although many left following a tense stand-off with soldiers.

The Haryana state government, controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, has faced criticism from the opposition and a state court for failing to stop the violence that erupted on Friday.

In a monthly radio address on Sunday, Mr Modi said it was "natural to be worried" after the violence, that briefly broke out in Delhi.

The rape case against Singh was brought after an anonymous letter was sent to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002. The author accused Singh of repeatedly raping her.

The case has highlighted the Indian heartland's fascination with spiritual gurus, who enjoy immense influence for their ability to mobilise millions of followers, many of whom are frustrated by the shortcomings of the state.

The 50-year-old Singh is known as the "guru in bling" for his bejewelled costumes. He says he has more than a million followers.

In 2015, Singh started a film franchise portraying him as MSG or Messenger of God, performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing.

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