Lawyer M L Sharma, who represents two defendants on trial, speaking with media outside the Saket District Court in New Delhi, yesterday.
NEW DELHI: A lawyer for the defendants in the New Delhi gang rape case accused police yesterday of beating confessions out of them as they appeared for their second court appearance.
Speaking ahead of a hearing in front of a city magistrate, Supreme Court lawyer M L Sharma said that the five adult suspects aged from 19 to 35 had been forced to confess since their arrest shortly after the December 16 crime.
He also suggested his defence would cast doubt on the character of the 23-year-old victim, a physiotherapy student who had been to watch a film with her boyfriend when they were lured onto a bus and repeatedly assaulted.
“All the accused have been badly beaten by the police and they have used the third degree to extract the statement that suits the evidence they have collected,” M L Sharma said outside Saket District Court in southern Delhi.
“My clients have been forced to confess to crimes that they did not commit.” A spokesman for Delhi police refused to comment on the allegations, though officers have said they have strong forensic evidence against the accused and testimony from the boyfriend.
Sharma is defending two of the adult defendants, who are expected to plead not guilty, while two other Supreme Court advocates were confirmed as counsels for the other three men during the hearing yesterday. The pleas of the other three men have not been decided yet, their lawyers V K Anand and A P Singh told reporters outside the court. A sixth accused, who is 17, will be tried in a juvenile court.
A police bus believed to be transporting the five suspects, mostly residents of New Delhi slums who are being held in top-security Tihar jail, was seen arriving at the court before their scheduled appearance at about 2:30pm. Lawyers said afterwards that the next hearing had been set for January 14.
After their first appearance on Monday was marred by chaotic scenes, the presiding magistrate Namrita Aggarwal ordered the court to be cleared and imposed restrictions limiting media reporting of the case.
A court officer had said earlier on Monday that the case would be transferred to a fast-track trial court during Thursday’s hearing, but this had not happened, lawyers said outside the court room.
If the men are convicted, they could face the death penalty which is reserved for “the rarest of rare” cases in India. Police say the group lured the woman and her boyfriend onto the private bus in New Delhi when they were trying to return home from the cinema. They then took it in turns to rape the woman and violate her with an iron bar, causing fatal internal injuries. In an interview with Bloomberg, Sharma was quoted as saying the male companion of the murdered 23-year-old was “wholly responsible” for the incident because 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 newswire. Sharma said 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.” 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 victim died in a Singapore hospital, 13 days after the attack which triggered mass protests across India over the levels of violence against women. The father of the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in a television interview he was proud of his daughter and believed her death had served as a badly needed wake-up call.AFP