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Five men convicted in Mumbai rape cases that drew international focus

IndiaMumbai (India)

MUMBAI, India – Five men were convicted Thursday for raping a photojournalist and a call-center operator in separate incidents that underlined India’s problem of sexual violence and spoiled this cosmopolitan city’s reputation for safety.

A court in Mumbai found the men guilty of gang rape, destruction of evidence and other crimes in the attacks that occurred weeks apart last summer at an abandoned textile mill in the heart of the city, India’s financial hub.

Three of the men were convicted in both incidents. The judge was expected on Friday to announce sentences that could include life in prison.

Investigators said that last August, the men accosted a 22-year-old female photojournalist and a male companion as she was taking pictures inside the derelict Shakti Mills in Mumbai’s Lower Parel neighborhood, where cutting-edge office buildings have begun to spring up among tumbledown slums.

Police said the men asked whether she had permission to take pictures and then lured the pair to a decrepit building inside the mill compound, a collection of red-brick ruins swallowed by shrubbery. They beat the male companion and tied his hands with a belt before three of the men repeatedly raped the woman, the court was told.

The case made national headlines and prompted another woman to come forward, saying she had been raped by the same men about a month earlier in the same location.

Indian law prohibits identifying the victims by name. The men convicted Thursday are Mohammed Salim Ansari, Siraj Rehmat Khan, Vijay Mohan Jadhav, Mohammed Ashfaq and Mohammed Kasim Hafeez Shaikh, all between the ages of 18 and 27 when they were arrested, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Two minors are being tried in connection with the cases in a juvenile court.

In a country where legal cases often proceed slowly through a sclerotic court system, officials in the western state of Maharashtra fast-tracked the Shakti Mills trials amid a growing international outcry over violence against women in India.

In December 2012, a female student was raped aboard a moving bus in the capital, New Delhi, in a notorious case that earned death sentences for four men. Several attacks involving foreign tourists further damaged India's international reputation.

[Updated at 11:05 a.m. PDT on March 20: R.R. Patil, Maharashtra state's minister of home affairs, who was in court as the verdict was read, said the victims had won justice.

"After the Delhi gang rape, the good sign is that women are coming out and reporting the crime, not tolerating it," Patil told reporters outside the courthouse. "I appeal to all women not to shy away from reporting the complaint. We are trying our best to increase the number of fast-track courts and give justice to victims as soon as possible.]

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Twitter: @SBengali

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