Washington: Indian American student Dharun Ravi, who is set to be sentenced Monday for hate crimes for using a webcam to spy on his roommate kissing another man, has surprisingly found support from gay rights advocates.

In the two months since he was found guilty "Ravi has gone from being a symbol of anti-gay bias to being something of a folk hero, with rallies of his supporters urging the court to 'Free Dharun,'" as the New York Times noted in a front page story.

Ravi's Rutgers New Jersey state university roommate Tyler Clementi, 18, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York a few days after the spying incident in September 2010.Ravi was not charged over his death.

But arguing in his defence prominent gay rights advocates cited by the Times suggested that Ravi is being punished for the suicide of his roommate and that pinning blame on him ignores the complicated social pressures that drive gay teenagers to kill themselves."As repugnant as his behaviour was, they say, it was not the blatantly bigoted or threatening actions that typically define hate crimes.

Some fear that a sentence that overreaches might provide tinder to anti-gay sentiment," the Times said.In an editorial Sunday Star-ledger of Newark Editorial Board said "Prison for Dharun Ravi would be 'a serious injustice'""State prison is for rapists, murderers and muggers. Not a weaselly college bully who's learned his lesson," it said.

"Home News" of New Brunswick, New Jersey also noted that defence attorneys who want Ravi to stay out of jail are backed by numerous outspoken members of both the gay and Indian communities.

Bill Dobbs, a New York-based gay activist and civil libertarian who attended the Ravi trial and rally, said the bias intimidation laws are unnecessary and have the potential to cause backlash.

Out in Jersey, the major online and print source for New Jersey lGBT news, also pleaded in an editorial last week "No jail time for Dahrun Ravi - please."Taking note of the "various demonstrations around New Jersey in support of Dahrun Ravi, as well as the voices of almost every lGBT publication" it said: "If we are to jail students for pranks, we might as well shut down the colleges and build a lot more prisons."

(Agencies)

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