NEW DELHI: India's top court Monday suspended the death sentences of two of the four men convicted of the deadly gang-rape of a student in New Delhi, an attack that triggered international outrage.
The Supreme Court temporarily stayed the sentences passed on gym instructor Vinay Sharma and bus cleaner Akshay Singh for the 2012 attack while their appeals were examined, a lawyer said.
"The sentence was stayed by the court after we filed the special leave petition," A.P. Singh, who represents the two men, told AFP.
"We want a full bench to hear this appeal. The claims against my clients are totally false, they have been wrongly accused," he said.
"They were not even in Delhi when this crime was supposed to have happened."
Four adults were convicted and sentenced to death last year for raping the 23-year-old woman on a bus in the capital in December 2012, a crime that unleashed weeks of angry protests over India's treatment of women.
The High Court in March this year upheld the death penalty on the four including Sharma and Singh, calling the crime "gruesome" and saying the case fell into the "rarest of rare category" which warranted execution.
The other two convicts, Mukesh Singh and Pawan Gupta, have already filed an appeal, with their sentences also put on hold.
Family to 'continue fight for justice'
The physiotherapy student was raped including with an iron rod after she was tricked into boarding a private bus to go home from the cinema with a male friend.
Her male companion was badly beaten and could not come to her aid while the assault was being carried out. The pair were later dumped naked and bleeding on the roadside.
The woman died 13 days after the attack from the injuries inflicted upon her, after being airlifted to a Singapore hospital for specialist treatment.
She survived long enough to give enough information to police to allow them to arrest her attackers, whose trial was fast-tracked.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai on Monday issued the order for the latest two as part of a procedure to examine the special-leave petition or appeal.
The victim's mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described the sentence suspension as unreasonable.
"If there is no death sentence for this crime, then which crime warrants a death sentence?" she told the CNN-IBN television network.
"We will continue our fight for justice."
The victim's father said the appeal had only delayed the men's executions "for no reason", adding that the suspension "will embolden the criminals".
"Now the next hearing is in August, we will just have to wait for the court's decision. It is the highest court in the country," he told AFP.
The attack led to tougher laws against rapists and sexual assault offenders and shone an international spotlight on what women's groups called a "rape epidemic" in the country.
Despite the outrage that the attack triggered and the overhaul of the laws, India still reports horrific sexual violence against women across the country.
A juvenile was also convicted over the gang-rape and sentenced to the maximum of three years in detention, while another suspect was found dead in his cell in an apparent suicide. (AFP)