x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

India gang-rape suspects will face death penalty if convicted

A gang of men accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed India are to appear in court today for the first time.

NEW DELHI // A gang of men accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed the nation are to appear in court today for the first time.

Police are to formally charge five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died at the weekend from the horrific injuries inflicted on her during an ordeal that has galvanised disgust over rising sex crimes in India.

It was unclear if a sixth suspect believed to be a minor aged 17 would appear in the Saket district court in south New Delhi. Police have ordered a bone test to determine his age and whether he can stand trial in an adult court.

The men, mostly residents of New Delhi slums, will face the death penalty if convicted, India's Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said, amid public clamour for their execution.

"It is compulsory for all the accused (to) present themselves before the magistrate," Rana Dasgupta, a legal officer at the court, explained to AFP.

The magistrate "will admit the charge sheet presented by the police and then give a copy of the charge sheet to all the accused".

This document - reportedly 1,000 pages long - will lay out the evidence collected, the most powerful of which is expected to be a statement from the victim after the attack and an account from her boyfriend who was with her at the time.

He was beaten during his attempts to save the physiotherapy student after the couple were lured onto the private bus by the reportedly drunk gang after watching a film at night.

Lawyers at the court in New Delhi on Wednesday told AFP that they would not defend the suspects, meaning that the government would have to appoint advocates for what will be a fast-tracked trial.

"We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused, as it would be immoral to defend the case," Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.

Altamas Kabir, the chief justice of India, however cautioned against letting the public 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," he was quoted as saying in the media on Thursday after inaugurating the first of the five fast-track courts announced to try sexual offence cases.