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Three men who raped and murdered an eight-year-old girl in a case which sparked outrage across India have been spared the death penalty.

The Muslim girl, Asifa Bano, was drugged, held captive in a Hindu temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Prosecutors had asked for the three attackers to be executed but they were today sentenced to prison for life instead.

One of them, Sanji Ram, was a retired public servant and a custodian of the temple where the girl was attacked.

Another three men were found guilty of taking bribes and destroying evidence and were jailed for five years.

A seventh man was acquitted, while an eighth person, who was underage, faces a separate trial.

According to the charge sheet, the girl was abducted from her Muslim nomadic tribe in January 2018.

Bano was grazing her family’s ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped.

Her raped and mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.

Forensic reports found that she had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled.

The case sparked two days of violent protests in Jammu and demonstrations in several other places across India, including in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

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On Monday hundreds of police were on duty in Pathankot for the trial.

Wary of new protests, security was also heavy in Kathua town and surrounding Muslim areas.

Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state, but the southern Jammu region – where the rape and murder took place – is Hindu-dominated.

Muslim activists condemned what they see as a crime against their community and some Hindu groups had argued that the accused had been unfairly charged.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that one of the men had ordered a fellow attacker to pause the murder so he could rape the child one last time.

Ram was also accused of conspiring with others to destroy crucial evidence in the case.

Other police officers were accused of accepting bribes in an effort to stifle the investigation.

The cases stirred memories of the mass demonstrations that followed the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in 2012.

The crime attracted international headlines and saw rape laws overhauled but high numbers of assaults persist, with 40,000 rape cases reported every year.

Last month violent protests erupted in Kashmir after a three-year-old girl was allegedly raped in a school bathroom.

The suspect, a car mechanic and a neighbour of the victim’s family, allegedly lured the child into the toilet of a nearby school and raped her there.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), a council of Muslim religious leaders and scholars, have said they wanted to address what they said was a rise in sexual violence in the region.

Crimes against women in the region jumped eight per cent to 3,168 cases in 2017 from 2,915 the previous year, according to government figures.