Holding him guilty of conspiracy to murder, a special CBI court in Haryana's Panchkula town on Friday convicted Dera Sacha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati.
Three others, who were close aides of the sect chief, were also convicted by the court. Krishan Lal, a former manager of the sect, Kuldeep and Nirmal, who were both carpenters and followers of the sect, all of who were present in the court, were immediately taken into custody by the police and shifted to the Ambala jail.
The judgment was pronounced by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court judge Jagdeep Singh in Panchkula, adjoining Chandigarh.
The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on January 17.
Chhatrapati, who edited a newspaper in Sirsa, was shot at five times on October 24, 2002 in Sirsa town in Haryana. He died on November 21 in a hospital in New Delhi after battling for life.
Ram Rahim appeared before the court through video conferencing from the Sunaria prison near Rohtak in view of security concerns raised by the Haryana Police and the government.
The same CBI judge had convicted the sect chief on two counts of rape on August 25, 2017 and sentenced him to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.
Chhatrapati's son Anshul demanded capital punishment for the disgraced self-styled godman.
After a special CBI court here convicted Ram Rahim and three others, Anshul told the media: "Such a man is not fit to live in our society. We demand that he should be given capital punishment.
"We were hoping for the past 16-17 years that we would get justice. We have got justice today after suffering for so long.
"We had to face a lot of difficulties and suffer a lot as he (Ram Rahim) was very powerful. We thank the CBI team that investigated the case and supported us. This man should get the death sentence," said Anshul.
Unlike the riots that rocked Panchkula and Sirsa towns in Haryana following his conviction for rape on August 25, 2017, tight security arrangements were made in and around the court complex in Panchkula ahead of the court hearing on Friday.
Security forces in Haryana and Punjab will remain on alert in the coming days. Security was beefed up in Rohtak and Sirsa towns in Haryana and some parts of Punjab.
Security was increased around the sect's headquarters campus on the outskirts of Sirsa town, around 260 km from here. Sect followers were not allowed to gather in big numbers.
Khatta Singh, a former driver of the controversial sect chief, had earlier told the court that Ram Rahim had ordered the killing of the journalist.
On Friday, Khatta Singh said that he was satisfied that justice had been done.
Ram Rahim, who was patronized by political leaders and parties of Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades due to his ability to shift votes of his followers, is now lodged in jail following his conviction on two counts of rape of his female disciples.
Ram Rahim's conviction had led to violence in Panchkula and Sirsa in Haryana, leaving 41 people dead and over 260 injured.
The sect chief is also linked to the murder of former Dera manager Ranjit Singh (in July 2002). The matter is being heard by the CBI court.
Ranjit Singh, who was believed to be privy to wrongdoing in the sect headquarters, was shot dead in July 2003. The sect chief suspected that Ranjit Singh was responsible for complaints of sexual exploitation of female disciples inside the sect campus coming out in the public.