Indian rape suspects in court
Five men accused of the gang rape and murder of an Indian student appeared in court today to hear charges against them, after two of them offered evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence in the case that has led to a global outcry.
The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi. She died two weeks later on December 28th in a Singapore hospital.
Television images showed the blue police van believed to be transporting the suspects from Tihar jail as it arrived at the court gate prior to the hearing.
A police guard said the men had their faces covered when they entered the courtroom, which had been closed to the public minutes earlier.
The five had already been charged with murder, rape and abduction along with other offences and the magistrate gave them copies of the charges, a prosecutor in the case told Reuters.
The court has yet to assign them defence lawyers or legal aid, said public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan. Most lawyers are unwilling to defend them because of the brutality of the crime. The magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, said the hearing would be closed to the media and the public and ordered that the packed court be cleared for the safety of the accused.
Sharma and Gupta, along with co-accused Mukesh Kumar, Ram Singh and Akshay Thakur, have already been charged with murder, rape and abduction along with other offences. Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan told Reuters he was seeking the death sentence in the case given the "heinous" nature of the crime.
"The five accused persons deserve not less than the death penalty," he said. His views echoing public sentiment and calls from the victim's family.
Two of the accused, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, moved an application on Saturday requesting they be made "approvers", or informers against the other accused, said Rajiv Mohan, a public prosecutor in the case.
The men, most of them from a slum neighbourhood, will be offered legal aid by the court before the trial can begin in a fast track tribunal set up after the December 16th attack on the woman.
Some legal experts warn their lack of representation could give grounds for appeal later should they be found guilty - similar cases have resulted in acquittals years after convictions.
The sixth member of the gang that lured the student and a male friend into the private bus is under 18 and will be tried in a separate juvenile court.
The government is aiming to lower the age teenagers can be tried as an adult, given widespread public anger that the boy will face a maximum three year sentence.