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Five charged in gang rape case

Prosecution seeks death penalty

AFP, and reporter, Thiruvananthapuram

January 4, 2013

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Police formally charged five men on murder, rape and kidnapping charges yesterday in connection with the gang rape case that triggered massive protests across the country and forced the federal government to review rape laws. 

The case is expected to be transferred to a fast-track trial court, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. They have asked for the trial to be conducted behind closed doors to protect the identity of the deceased and her family.

The 23-year-old medical student from north India was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a moving bus in the capital on December 16 as she returned from a cinema with her boyfriend. She died last weekend from her injuries. 

A statement by the Delhi victim and an account from her boyfriend, who was badly beaten during the attack, are expected to form crucial parts of the evidence against the five, aged between 35 and 19.

A sixth suspect, believed to be a minor aged 17, was not charged in the court at Saket yesterday. Detectives are awaiting the results of a bone test to verify his age and determine whether he can be tried in an adult court.

The brutal incident triggered massive protests across the country and forced the federal government to review laws against rape, with tougher penalties for offenders and even chemical castration among measures being considered.

Altamas Kabir, the country's chief justice, has cautioned against letting anger overwhelm the due process of law.

"Let us not get carried away. A swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial," Kabir was quoted as saying in the local media yesterday.

Lawyers at the district court in New Delhi have refused to defend the suspects, meaning the government will have to appoint advocates for them.

Several hundred protesters including female lawyers gathered outside the court yesterday, demanding greater protection for women and a better justice system.

"Why is there such a low conviction rate in India? Please judges, wake up!" read one banner.

Just 26 percent of the 24,206 cases of rape registered in 2011 in India resulted in a conviction, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Analysis of the Delhi gang rape has focused on India's deeply patriarchal society, in which misogyny and sexism run deep and women are often treated as second class citizens.

"Every 25 minutes there is a rape case in India, but only one out of 10 cases gets reported," activist Ranjani Kumari said. "How long should people have to wait for the system to respond?"

Campaigners hope the December 16 attack will serve as a turning point, changing social attitudes and leading to greater sensitivity by the police.

Meanwhile, police in Kerala have registered a case against an unknown internet user for uploading a photograph of an engineering student on a social networking site, claiming she was the Delhi gang rape victim. Around half a million people 'liked' the erroneous picture.

“We have received a complaint from the father stating that the photograph uploaded to Facebook as the Delhi gang rape victim’s picture is fake and the picture used was his daughter’s photograph uploaded with her FB profile,” said Vinayakumar, assistant commissioner of the state police's cyber crime unit.

He said they have directed FB officials to delete the photograph and help them track the culprit, whose IP address is already known.  

The police have not determined whether the culprit intended to defame the engineering student.

Binoy Mathew, a lawyer who specializes in cyber laws, said that if found guilty, the accused could get a jail term of up to three years. 

A recent poll found India to be the worst country in the G20 group of nations for women because of child marriage, abuse and female foeticide.

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