Monday, January 7, 2013

India: Gang-rape suspects in court for first time

A court source told AFP that two of the men had offered to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for more lenient sentences in a case that has sparked three weeks of protests and soul-searching about endemic sex crime in India.

The suspects, residents of New Delhi slums aged from 19 to 35, were brought to the court complex from the capital's high-security Tihar jail under high security due to fears for their safety.

"A chargesheet has been provided to the accused and the next hearing will be on January 10," magistrate Namrita Aggarwal told reporters after the brief hearing.

She earlier ordered the hearing to take place behind closed doors after journalists and lawyers packed the tiny courtroom which had chairs for about 30 people but was struggling to accommodate about 150.

Some lawyers staged noisy protests against the suspects being given defence counsels after two Supreme Court advocates stepped forward offering to defend the men in order to ensure a fair trial.

"It has become completely impossible for the courtroom proceedings to proceed," Aggarwal said in an order that forced all journalists and lawyers not connected with the case to vacate the stuffy court room.

The accused, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are charged with rape, murder and kidnap. A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.

The next hearing has been set for Thursday.

Though gang-rapes are commonplace in India, the case has touched a nerve, leading to three weeks of sweeping introspection on India's attitudes to women, its often insensitive police force and dysfunctional justice system.

It often takes years to bring a case to court, but the fast-tracked legal proceedings are getting under way barely a week after the 23-year-old medical student died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

She had been out to watch a film with her boyfriend when they were lured onto a bus where the gang are accused of repeatedly raping and violating her with an iron bar, causing horrific internal damage.

The defendants have been named as Ram Singh, a bus driver, his brother Mukesh Singh, gym assistant Vijay Sharma, labourer Akshay Thakur and fruit-seller Pawan Gupta.

A court source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that Thakur and Gupta had asked to become witnesses to the crime and cooperate with prosecutors.

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.

Lawyers at the Saket court complex have decided to refuse to defend the accused, ignoring pleas from India's chief justice that the suspects be given a fair trial.

"No person should be hanged without a proper trial," Supreme Court lawyer M.L. Sharma, who has offered to represent the men, told AFP.

Legal experts say the magistrate Aggarwal will likely transfer the case to a higher court for trial.

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, as well as testimony from the boyfriend who witnessed the assault.

"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.

Source: Agence France-Presse, January 7, 2013


Death sentence in murder-rape case commuted to life term by SC

NEW DELHI: Even as there is a nationwide outrage and demand for death to rapists, the Supreme Court had commuted the capital punishment to life imprisonment for a young man who raped a pregnant women and killed her great mother-in-law on the ground that the accused was drunk and not in a normal state of mind.

Three days before the brutal gangrape and assault of a 23-year-old girl in a moving bus in Delhi that had led to a countrywide outcry, the apex court was of the view that the mental condition of an accused be examined before putting the offence in the rarest of the rare category.

The court had commuted the death sentence to life term of a convict in Pune, who had raped the woman and killed her relative on the ground that he was drunk at the time of committing the offence.

A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar (now retired) and Madan B Lokur had said the manner in which the crime was committed, the mental condition of accused must be examined before putting the offence in the rarest of rare category.

"It is not only the crime and its various facets which are the foundation for formation of special reasons as contemplated under Section 354(3) of the CrPC (pertaining to death sentence) for imposing death penalty but it is also the criminal, his background," the bench had said.

In the case, convict Sainath Kailash Abhang (then 23- year- old) had, on September 10, 2007, entered the woman's house in Pune and had killed her. He had then mercilessly chopped off the wrist of her left hand and four fingers of the right hand.

After committing the gruesome act, he repeatedly assaulted a pregnant relative of the deceased and raped her.

The court after going through all the evidences, including the statement of the injured lady, who said the convict was drunk, had granted him the relief.

Strongly reacting to the court's recent judgement, the victim's family today said the perpetrator of the crime had "no right to live".

Speaking on behalf of the family, advocate D Y Jadhav, who had fought the case as public prosecutor in Pune sessions court which had awarded death penalty to the accused that was later upheld by the High court, told PTI, " This was one of the rarest of the rare cases. My client was very keen on death penalty to the perpetrator of the heinous crime and is disappointed."

Source: The Economic Times, January 6, 2013