The Bombay High Court on Thursday set aside the death sentences awarded to three persons convicted in the 2013 Shakti mills gangrape case, reported Bar and Bench. The High Court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

The three men – Vijay Jadhav, Mohammed Kasim Bengali and Mohammed Salim Ansari – had been convicted in 2014 by a Mumbai session court for gangraping a 23-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai’s Shakti mills area. They were awarded death penalty on the ground that they were repeat offenders.

On Thursday, a bench of Justices SS Jadhav and PK Chavan upheld the conviction by the sessions court but reduced the sentence.

“Constitutional court cannot award punishment based on public opinion,” the High Court said. “While setting aside the death sentence, it may be said that we took counter majority view but constitutional court is to follow the procedure.”

The High Court added that they convicted persons will not be entitled to parole or furlough.

The case

Four men and a minor had raped a 23-year-old photojournalist inside the Shakti Mills compound on August 22, 2013. The Mumbai Police had arrested all the accused within a week.

A month later, a 19-year-old telephone operator had approached the police to lodge a complaint about being gangraped by five men at the same location on July 31, 2013.

Both women had identified Jadhav, Bengali and Ansari and the trial in the two cases were held simultaneously.

On March 20, 2014, the sessions court held the four accused men guilty in each case. The next day, the men were sentenced to life imprisonment in the telephone operator’s case.

The prosecution then sought adding Section 376E of the Indian Penal Code. The section states that a repeat rape offender should be jailed for life or sentenced to death. The amendment was introduced in 2013, after the 2012 Delhi gang rape.

The court had allowed the plea. On March 24, 2014, the court awarded death sentences to Jadhav, Bengali and Ansari and life imprisonment to Siraj Rehman Khan. The juvenile was sent to a correctional facility after a Juvenile Justice Board convicted him.

“The legislature has provided for this punishment in the rarest of rare cases,” principal judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi had then said. “If this is not the case where death sentence prescribed by the law is valid, which is?”

The ruling had marked the first instance in which the death penalty was given under Section 376E of the Indian Penal Code.