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Hearings begin in Indian gang-rape trial

Proceedings against five men accused of fatal sexual attack on 23-year-old student launched in Delhi fast-track court.
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2013 16:34
Protesters in New Delhi and other parts of India have called for the death penalty for the suspects [AFP]

Hearings in the New Delhi gang rape and murder case have begun in a fast-track court in the Indian capital.

Additional Sessions Judge Yogesh Khanna, who leads the special court dealing with crimes against women, was given copies of the charges and documents with evidence after the five accused were produced in the Saket district court in New Delhi on Monday.

The transfer of the rape case from a district court to the fast-track court, a decision which is largely procedural, comes as emotions continue to run high in India over brutal attack on the student last month.

"The judge has fixed arguments on charges for 24 January," VK Anand, lawyer for one of the accused, said.

"Defence lawyers will argue with the prosecution whether the charges are correct and if the accused could be tried for these charges."

The five men are accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old student.

Apart from murder and rape, they also face charges such as kidnapping. If convicted, they could be given the death penalty.

A sixth accused, who police believe is a minor, is expected to be tried separately in a juvenile court.

Defence demand

Monday's hearing was delayed by an hour after defence lawyers argued that the proceedings should be open to the media. The judge said the proceedings would be held behind closed doors.

AP Singh, another defence lawyer, said that one of his two clients was a minor, as he was born on March 1, 1995, and the crime took place on December 16.

He said the police had mistakenly given March 1, 1994, as his client's date of birth.

"I requested the court to order medical tests including bone ossification tests to determine his age, and the court has reserved its order on the matter," he said.

Another defence lawyer petitioned the Indian supreme court to transfer the case out of New Delhi, saying the ongoing protests and media coverage prejudiced the case against his client, broadcaster NDTV reported.

It said the court is expected to take up the petition on Tuesday.

The lawyers said arguments on the framing of charges would be scheduled for later this week.The victim's parents have called for the death penalty for the accused.

Prosecutors say they have DNA evidence linking the defendants to the attack in which the student and a male companion were assaulted on a bus as it was driven around New delhi, having been picked up after seeing a film.

Hospital-bed testimony

The prosecutors also have the victim's hospital-bed declaration before her death and testimony from her companion who took part in identification parades after the ordeal.

Rajiv Mohan, senior prosecutor, has pledged to seek the death penalty for the "heinous" crime, saying "we have sufficient evidence against all the accused" to secure a conviction.

The woman, a promising student whose father worked extra shifts as an airport baggage handler to educate her, suffered massive intestinal injuries during the December 16 assault in which she was raped and violated with an iron bar.

She died 13 days later after the government airlifted her to a Singapore hospital.

The defence lawyers have claimed that their clients were beaten at New Delhi's Tihar jail by prison inmates at the behest of police.

They have alleged that the woman died because of medical negligence and charged the police with fabricating evidence in hastily conducted investigations under public pressure. 

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Source:
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