Trial of five men in India gang rape case begins in New Delhi
By Ashok Sharma ,APNEW DELHI -- The trial of five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus began in a closed courtroom Thursday with opening arguments by the prosecution lawyers in a special fast-track court set up just weeks ago to handle sexual assault cases.
January 25, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
The brutal attack last month set off protests across India and opened a national debate about the epidemic of violence against women. A government committee established in the wake of the attack has called for a complete overhaul of the way the criminal justice system deals with rape, sexual assaults and crimes against women in general.
The five men on trial — who face a maximum sentence of death by hanging if convicted — covered their faces with woolen caps as they walked into the courtroom Thursday surrounded by a phalanx of armed police. Two hours later, after proceedings were over, they were whisked away by the police. A sixth suspect in the case has claimed he is a juvenile and is expected to be tried in a juvenile court.
Details of the day's proceedings were not available. The courtroom was closed to the public and the media — a routine move in Indian rape cases — even though defense lawyers had argued that since the victim is dead, the proceedings should be opened. There was also a gag order on the lawyers to not reveal what happened inside the court.
Judge Yogesh Khanna turned down requests by journalists Thursday that they be briefed on the day's proceedings and said the gag order would remain.
Since Friday is a public holiday in India, the next hearing in the case was set for Monday, when the defense will present its opening arguments.
After the hearing, M.L. Sharma, a defense lawyer for Mukesh Singh, one of the accused, said he had withdrawn from the case. V.K. Anand, who represents Mukesh's brother Ram Singh, will now defend both brothers. The two lawyers had been arguing over who was Mukesh Singh's real lawyer.
Sharma said he left the case to save his client from being tortured to fire him. He has long maintained that the other defense lawyers were planted by the police to ensure guilty verdicts.