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January 21, 2013

5 on Trial in India Gang-Rape Case

by Anjana Pasricha

The trial of five men charged with the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman last month began Monday in a specially convened fast track court in New Delhi.
 
The start of the trial was delayed for more than an hour as defense lawyers argued that it should be open to the media and public.
 
“Kindly allow the media, because crime is against the society: society, [the] person at large has every right to know what is going on in [the] court itself," said attorney V.K. Anand, explaining why they wanted an open trial for the five suspects in the 
 
Judge Yogesh Khanna, who was given the charge sheet, rejected the pleas, saying only those connected with the case could remain in the courtroom. Arguments in the case will begin on Thursday.   
 
Defense lawyers of two of the five accused men say their clients will plead not guilty, arguing that the men were beaten and tortured by police to coerce confessions following the huge public outrage over the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student.
 
Prosecutors, however, are confident of convicting the accused, who range from 19 to 35 years of age. They will rely on DNA evidence, cellphone records and the testimony of the victim, who died after fighting for her life in the hospital for several days.
 
A senior prosecutor has said he will seek the death penalty for all five men. A sixth suspect claims to be a juvenile and is being tried separately.
 
The Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal by one of the five accused men to move the trial out of New Delhi to ensure that he can get a fair trial. His petition says deep anger over the crime means he cannot get justice in a city where there have been widespread public calls for the alleged perpetrators to be hanged.
 
The gang rape ignited massive public protests from thousands of young men and women, who have been demanding speedy justice, more safety and better treatment for women. Public outrage prompted the government to move the case to a fast track court in a country where it is common for rape victims to wait for years before the guilty are brought to justice.     
 
India’s courts are clogged with an estimated 33 million cases. Besides the huge wait to get a verdict, the conviction rate in rape cases is also very poor. The government is establishing six fast track courts in Delhi to deal with crimes against women.