Gang rape accused get legal help
Three of the men accused of raping and murdering an Indian student have asked lawyers to defend them and the lawyers have agreed to do so, even though most of the judiciary has refused to represent the suspects because of outrage over the attack.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died two weeks after being beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in New Delhi, then thrown bleeding onto the street. Protests followed, along with a fierce public debate over police failure to stem rampant violence against women.
Five men and a teenager have been accused of the December 16th attack but with public anger simmering, most lawyers in the district where the trial will be held have ruled out representing them.
But two lawyers, VK Anand and Manohar Lal Sharma, offered to defend the five men when they appeared in a New Delhi court for the first time yesterday, despite the condemnation of their legal colleagues. The lawyers said today three of the five had asked to be represented by them.
"I understand the sentiments of the people. But you cannot go by sentiments," Mr Anand said. "The accused have a right to justice just as the victim has."
Legal experts had said a lack of representation for the five could give grounds for appeal if they were found guilty. Convictions in similar cases have often been overturned years later.
The five accused men are facing various charges including murder, rape and abduction and prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty.
Mr Anand said he would represent Ram Singh, the driver of the bus on which the rape took place, and had a preliminary meeting with him today to work on a defence plan.
"There are many aspects. He has conceded some things and also talked about the role of others," Mr Anand said. He declined to go into details.
The other lawyer, Mr Sharma, said he would also be representing Mr Singh as well as two other men. The court must confirm the two lawyers as defenders when it next convenes on January 10th.
The other two of the five accused men had yet to ask for legal representation, the lawyers said. The sixth member of the group, who is a teenager, will be tried separately in a juvenile court.
Yesterday, Mr Anand and Mr Sharma were heckled when they offered to defend the men during rowdy scenes in court before the pre-trial hearing. Mr Sharma said denying the men a legal defence would only make it easier for courts to throw out the case if not now, then later, if it went to an appeal.
Since their arrest soon after the assault on the woman and a male companion, the men have not had any lawyers. Police have conducted extensive interrogations of the men and say they have recorded confessions.