NEW DELHI, India — A lawyer who plans to defend the men accused of raping and fatally wounding a young woman in Delhi claims they were tortured by police.
"All these people have been tortured badly," Manohar Lal Sharma, who intends to represent three of the six suspects, told reporters this morning.
"It's under pressure that they have made statements in court," he added. "Evidence has been manipulated to calm the anger among people."
Sharma alleged that police sexually assaulted one of his clients, 22-year-old Mukesh Singh, with a stick and "urinated in his mouth," Reuters reported.
He added that the suspects now face abuse from other inmates in the Delhi jail where they're awaiting trial.
A spokesman for the jail denied that, telling the BBC that "their safety is guaranteed."
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However, human rights activists say abuse in the prison system is widespread.
“Torture is rampant in the police,” said Anant Asthana, a lawyer with the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network.
Human Rights Watch excoriated India for failing to curb police abuses in a 2009 report. It found a range of human rights violations were common in the Indian justice system, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. Garden variety beatings didn't even merit a mention.
“The police actually treats torture as a standard forensic tool in India,” Asthana said. “It's not something that's surprising, given the seriousness of the offense and the public anger.”
A human rights worker familiar with prison conditions at Tihar Jail, where the suspects are being held, said jail officials have also reported that the accused have been beaten up by other prisoners, and one man may have been sexually assaulted. "The reports we are getting say they are very afraid," said the rights worker, who declined to be named. “Everybody knows who they are, but they don't want to be identified to incoming prisoners.”
Rights workers are also speculating that the hospitalization of the juvenile rape suspect, purportedly for an appendicitis, may actually be the result of torture at the hands of the police or other juvenile offenders. Under Indian law, juveniles are held at so-called "observation homes" rather than adult jails.
Defense lawyer Sharma appears to be preparing a defense based on the flaws in India's judicial system, the Associated Press reported.
He maintains that have been made into scapegoats by the Indian authorities, who are under pressure to prosecute the case as swiftly as possible.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, say they have forensic evidence to link the suspects to the crime, including a match between the victim's blood and stains found on the accused's clothes.
Five of the suspects were charged this week with abduction, rape and murder, for which they could face the death penalty. A sixth is believed to be a minor, in which case he will be tried separately.
The authorities have pledged to try the case in a special "fast-track" court, though a second pre-trial hearing today resulted only in the proceedings being adjourned until Monday, the AP reported.
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