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(Adds charges read, no defence assigned)
By Annie Banerji and Suchitra Mohanty
NEW DELHI, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Five men accused of the rape
and murder of an Indian student appeared in court on Monday to
hear charges against them after two of them offered evidence
possibly in return for a lighter sentence in the case that has
provoked widespread anger.
The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping
the 23-year-old physiotherapy student after she boarded their
bus on the way home from a movie in New Delhi on Dec. 16. She
died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The attack on the student has ignited protests against the
government and anger towards the police for their perceived
failure to protect women. It has also provoked a rare national
debate about rising violence against women.
A police guard said the men had their faces covered when
they entered the courtroom, which had been closed to the public
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.
Reuters video images showed the men stepping out of a blue
police van that brought them from Tihar jail, and walking
through a metal detector into the South Delhi court, across the
street from the cinema where the victim watched a film before
boarding the bus with a male friend on Dec. 16.
Following shouting and angry scenes in the packed court, the
magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, closed the hearing to the media
and the public. The court was cleared and police were posted at
its doors before the accused were brought in.
"Keeping in view the sensitivity of this case that has
risen, the proceedings including the inquiry and trial are to be
held in camera," Aggarwal said, before ordering people not
connected with the case out of the courtroom.
Aggarwal said the next hearing would be on Jan. 10. She did
not say when the case would go to trial in a separate,
fast-track court, set up after the attack on the woman.
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, Mukesh Kumar, Ram Singh
and Akshay Thakura, prosecutor Mohan said.
Mohan said he was seeking the death sentence given the
"The five accused persons deserve not less than the death
penalty," he said, echoing public sentiment and calls from the
Most members of the bar association in Saket district, where
the case is being heard, have vowed not to represent the
GROUNDS FOR APPEAL?
But on Monday, lawyers Manohar Lal Sharma and V. K. Anand
stood up to offer representation to the men. They were heckled
by other lawyers who said the accused did not deserve
"We are living in a modern society. We all are educated.
Every accused, including those in brutal offences like this, has
the legal right to represent his or her case to defend
themselves," Lal Sharma said.
The court asked Anand to get the approval of the accused to
represent them. If the men, most of them from a slum
neighbourhood, can not arrange their own lawyers, the court will
offer them legal aid before the trial begins.
Police have conducted extensive interrogations and say they
have recorded confessions, even though the five have no lawyers.
Legal experts say their lack of representation could give
grounds for appeal should they be found guilty. Similar cases
have resulted in acquittals years after convictions.
Last week, chief justice Altamas Kabir inaugurated six
fast-track courts to help reduce a backlog of sex crime cases in
But some legal experts have warned that previous attempts to
fast-track justice in India in some cases led to imperfect
convictions that were later challenged.
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.
The victim, who died on Dec. 29 in hospital in Singapore,
where she had been taken for treatment, was identified by a
British newspaper on the weekend but Reuters has opted not to
Indian law generally prohibits the identification of victims
of sex crimes. The law is intended to protect victims' privacy
and keep them from the media glare in a country where the social
stigma associated with rape can be devastating.
But her father repeated on Monday his wish that she be
identified and said he would be happy to release a photograph
"We don't want to hide her identity, there is no reason for
that. The only condition is it should not be misused," he told
He said he was confident the trial would be quick and
reiterated a call that those responsible be hanged.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Robert Birsel)