Delhi rape suspects attend trial, lawyer claims abuse

AP and AFP, NEW DELHI

Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - Page 6

Police badly beat the five suspects arrested in the brutal gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the lawyer for three of the men said yesterday, accusing authorities of tampering with evidence in the case that has transfixed India.

“They are innocent,” lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma said of his three clients ahead of a court hearing.

He said police beat the men and placed other prisoners into the suspects’ cells to threaten them with knives, adding: “You can’t believe the reality of Indian prisons.”

Five men have been charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and a male friend on a bus as it was driven through the streets of India’s capital, New Delhi. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on Dec. 16 and eventually died of her injuries.

Sharma, who has made a series of inflammatory and often-contradictory statements over the past two days, was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg interview that the male companion of the murdered 23-year-old was “wholly responsible” for the incident as the unmarried couple should not have been on the streets at night.

“Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady,” he told the financial news wire. “Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.”

Sharma told reporters that he had not been trying to smear the victim.

“I did speak to Bloomberg, but did not say anything about the victim. I only told them that women are respected in India, they are mothers, sisters, friends, but tell me which country respects a prostitute,” he said.

Asked if that meant that he regarded the victim as a prostitute, Sharma replied: “No, not at all, but I have to protect my clients and prove that they did not commit this heinous crime.”

The case has sparked protests across India by women and men who say the legal system does not do enough to protect women.

Sharma said that authorities, under pressure to quickly wrap up the case, would convict his clients no matter what evidence, including forcing them to make incriminating statements.

“What happened to this woman was so heinous, so horrible,” Sharma said, adding that, “the police will manipulate the facts.”

Sharma spoke to reporters before a hearing for the suspects in a New Delhi court complex. He said he represents bus driver Ram Singh, Singh’s brother Mukesh, and another man, Akshay Thakur. He said all three will plead not guilty. The suspects were quickly hustled into the courtroom yesterday afternoon for the hearing, which is expected to result in the case being sent to a special “fast-track” court.

Sharma said the men had been picked up because the authorities needed to make arrests given the public outcry, adding that the suspects are all poor or working-class.

“If the parents of these boys had money, they would not be in court today,” he said.

He said his clients had all been badly beaten by authorities — a practice common in India — and had repeated whatever statements the police asked them to make. He said Mukesh Singh, 22, was now constantly in tears.

“He is sobbing like a child and saying: ‘Get me out of here, sir,”’ Sharma said.