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 Sirsa-based journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati.
Three others, who were close aides of the sect chief, were also convicted by the court.
Krishan Lal, Kuldeep and Nirmal, 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.
Chhatrapati, who edited a newspaper in Sirsa, was shot at five times in October 2002 in Sirsa town in Haryana. He died in November, after battling for life in a hospital for a few days.
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 judgment was pronounced by the CBI court judge Jagdeep Singh. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on January 17.
The same judge had convicted the sect chief on two counts of rape on August 25, 2017 and sentenced him to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.
Tight security arrangements were made in and around the court complex in Panchkula in view of the court hearing.
Security was beefed up in Rohtak and Sirsa towns in Haryana and some parts of Punjab ahead of the judgment.
Police were present near 'Naam Charcha ghars' (prayer complexes) of the sect in Haryana and Punjab to prevent any law and order situation from getting out of hand.
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.
Ram Rahim, who was feted by political leaders and parties of Punjab and Haryana for nearly two decades due to his ability to shift votes of his followers, is 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.
Besides the Chhtarapati murder case, the sect chief is facing another murder case of former Dera manager Ranjit Singh. 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.
First Published: IST