In a landmark verdict, a court in India has handed down the country's first death sentence under an amended law on punishment for rape. Under the new law, repeat offenders can now be sentenced to death, and rapists can be imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives.

Three repeat offenders involved the gang rape of a photojournalist and a call-centre employee in an abandoned mill were sentenced to death by a Mumbai sessions court, according to local media reports.

The photojournalist was raped by five males, one of whom is a minor being tried in a juvenile court.

The fifth accused was sent to prison for life.

Judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi said that the objective of the law was to send a "strong signal" to society that such grave offences must not occur again.

The court termed the gang-rape by repeat offenders as a "rarest of the rare" case.

"If not in this case, then in which case can death be awarded? The accused showed no mercy towards the victim(s) [photojournalist and call-centre employee]. They were cruel in their conduct and had no remorse for the crime they committed."

Joshi appreciated the courage of the victims in reporting the case to police.

"The court has witnessed her [photojournalist's] trauma and pain. She had fainted during her deposition. This shows the extent of her suffering," she said.

"This is a crime not only against the girl but also a crime against society. The common man will lose faith in the system if leniency is shown. There should be zero tolerance of such crimes."

The accused men had appealed to the court for leniency, citing their low economic status, impoverished backgrounds and positions as family bread-winners.

In response, the judge noted that "their economic status is irrelevant. This was a diabolical act."

In August 2013, the 22-year-old photojournalist was gang-raped by five men. The accused also reportedly made a clip of the victim during the assault. She lodged a complaint with the police.

Following a media frenzy, a 19-year-old call-centre operator came forward claiming that she too had earlier been raped by three of the accused at the same location.

In the earlier judgment on the call-centre employee trial on 20 March, the judge had ruled that the "offence was pre-meditated, they are depraved."