Delhi gang-rape suspects to appear in court

Rupam Jain Nair
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Indian women police stand guard at Jantar Mantar during a protest against a gang rape in New Delhi on January 6, 2013

Indian women police stand guard at Jantar Mantar during a protest against a gang rape in New Delhi on January 6, 2013. Five men charged with the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student in New Delhi will appear in court for the first time Monday after police said they had forensic evidence to link to them to the killing

Five men charged with the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student in New Delhi were set to appear in court on Monday for the first time amid a heavy police presence and calls for them to be hanged.

The five, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are charged with kidnap, robbery and conspiracy over the attack on December 16 that sparked mass protests in India and soul-searching about levels of violence against women.

Rowdy protests by some lawyers, who were denouncing other advocates who have stepped forward to defend the accused, delayed the start of proceedings in the packed court room and police were called in to restore order.

Late morning, several blue Delhi Police buses escorted by two police cars were seen driving into the Saket court complex in south New Delhi after jail authorities confirmed the suspects had been sent for their hearing.

The defendants have been named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vijay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta.

A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.

It normally takes months for the prosecution to assemble such a case, but the legal proceedings are getting under way barely a week after the 23-year-old medical student died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

The government, sensitive to criticism that a sluggish justice system often compounds the agony of victims, has pledged to fast-track the case against the defendants who are aged between 17 and 35. They all live in Delhi.

Police have pledged "maximum security" during the hearing at the court amid fears for the defendants' safety. A man was arrested last week as he allegedly tried to plant a crude bomb near the home of one of the men.

Legal experts say the magistrate Namrita Aggarwal will likely transfer the case to a higher court during Monday's hearing.

"The court will ask them if they have lawyers and then it will appoint an Amicus Curiae (lawyer) to represent them and supply copies of the chargesheet to the accused," said Vishwender Verma, a senior advocate at Delhi High Court.

"The case will then be committed to a sessions court as a magistrates' court cannot try rape and murder cases."

The student, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had spent the evening at a cinema with her boyfriend on the night of the attack. After failing to flag down an autorickshaw, they were lured onto a schoolbus they thought would take them home.

Instead, a gang are alleged to have taken it in turns to rape the young woman as well as sexually assault her with an iron bar that they also used to attack her companion. The pair were then thrown out of the moving vehicle.

Outlining their case before the same court in Saket on Saturday, prosecutors said there was DNA evidence to tie the defendants to the crime scene.

"The blood of the victim tallied with the stains found on the clothes of the accused," said Rajiv Mohan, part of the prosecution team.

There have been widespread calls for the attackers to be hanged, including from the victim's family.

Her father was quoted by Britain's Sunday People newspaper at the weekend as saying he wanted "death for all six of them" as well calling for his daughter's name to be made public "to give courage to other women".

But in an interview with Monday's Hindustan Times he said he only supported his daughter's name being used for a new law covering crimes against women.

"I want my daughter to be known as the one who could bring a change in the society and laws, and not as a victim of a barbaric crime," he told the paper.

Rape cases are usually held behind closed doors in India and it will be up to the court to decide what the media will be allowed to report.

The police have issued an advisory saying "it shall not be lawful for any person to print or publish any matter in relation to such proceedings" unless they receive permission from the court.

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