India gang rape suspects charged in court
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Indian authorities on Thursday formally charged five of the six men accused of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman aboard a New Delhi bus. If convicted, the suspects face the death penalty.
Police formally charged five men Thursday with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student, a crime which appalled India and led to national soul-searching about the treatment of women.
Police filed a string of charges including murder, rape and kidnapping against the suspects, listing evidence in a confidential 1,000-page document submitted to a district court in the south of the capital New Delhi.
The five aged between 35 and 19, who would face the death penalty if convicted, had been expected in court but were not present when the media were allowed in to listen to part of the proceedings.
"We have filed the charge sheet against the five accused," an investigating police officer told a woman district magistrate. She is expected to transfer the case to a fast-track trial court when the next hearing is held on Saturday.
The medical student from north India was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a moving bus in the capital on December 16 as she returned from a cinema with her boyfriend.
A statement from the Delhi victim, who died at the weekend from her injuries, and an account from her boyfriend, who was badly beaten during the attack, are expected to form crucial parts of the evidence against the five.
A sixth suspect who is believed to be a minor aged 17 was not charged in the court at Saket on Thursday. Detectives are awaiting the results of a bone test to verify his age and determine whether he can be tried in an adult court.
Lawyers at the district court in New Delhi refused to defend the accused men -- the bus driver, his brother and four of their friends, all residents of a south Delhi slum near the site of the attack.
“We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused as it would be immoral to defend the case,” Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and a member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.
Kumar said the 2,500 advocates registered at the court have decided to "stay away" to ensure "speedy justice", meaning the government would have to appoint outside lawyers for the defendants.
Madan Lal, founder and president of the Saket Bar Association, explained that it was a “largely symbolic gesture” that reflected national horror at the appalling nature of the crime.
“But even if the police have a foolproof case that will lead to the severest of penalties, the accused have the right to free legal counsel, and they will get it,” he told FRANCE 24.
'Turning point' for Indian rape victims
The brutal and horrific nature of the attack on the 23-year-old medical student led to protests across India over the widespread abuse of women and sex crime in India.
The unnamed victim died at a hospital in Singapore last weekend after a 13-day struggle to survive injuries so grievous that part of her intestines had to be removed.
She was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a bus on December 16 before being thrown from the moving vehicle at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour ordeal. Her attackers then tried to run her over with the vehicle but she was pulled to safety by her boyfriend, who was also beaten in the attack.
Lal told FRANCE 24 on Thursday that he and other lawyers were confident that the huge attention that the case had brought would improve legal prospects for rape victims in a city where the vast majority go unreported – and those that do hardly ever lead to a conviction.
“I believe 100 percent that this case will prove to be a turning point in the way the legal system handles allegations of rape and sexual assault,” he said. “Until now, by the time cases come to court, witnesses often change their statements for social reasons, or if they have been paid off by their alleged attackers."
“But this case was so heinous in its cruelty and has attracted so much attention that I believe this will change. Victims will be more inclined to actually report attacks, and they will be more determined to stick to their stories when the cases go to court.
“The police will be more careful in following up the allegations, and judges will be more thorough and severe in the way these cases are handled once in court.”
In 2008, Indian lawyers also refused to defend a gunman who took part in attacks on Mumbai that killed 166 people, leaving him with a government-appointed lawyer. He was executed in November last year.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)