Delhi gang rape suspects 'tortured to force confession'

The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan: "The case has opened up a wider debate about how women are treated in India"

A lawyer for one of the five men charged with the abduction, rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi says suspects have been tortured and coerced into admitting the crime.

Manohar Lal Sharma said his client Mukesh Singh was tortured for 10 days.

Amid heavy security, all five appeared in court for a second time, before the case was adjourned until Monday.

The court ruled the charge-sheet needed more scrutiny. No decision was taken on moving the case to a fast-track trial.

The case has shocked India and prompted a debate about the treatment of women. If convicted, the five men charged face the death penalty.

A sixth suspect, who is thought to be 17, will be tried separately in a youth court if it is confirmed he is a minor.

Evidence 'manipulated'

Analysis

The accused arrived in court today under police guard, but proceedings were held behind closed doors. Despite appeals to magistrates, it was decided that all hearings would now take place in private, after chaotic scenes in the courtroom earlier this week.

But outside Saket District court there was plenty of activity, as lawyers representing the accused spoke to journalists. Earlier this week the local bar association refused to provide legal representation - today, the five men have lawyers.

One of them told reporters his client had been tortured into making a confession, an unexpected twist in a case which has already gripped India, before even making it to trial.

Delhi police say they can't comment on active legal proceedings. The next hearing is set for January 14th, but a date for the case to reach the fast track court has yet to be set.

On Thursday, defence lawyers were selected for the five suspects - but they have the right to change lawyers if they wish. They will enter their pleas once a formal trial begins.

Manohar Lal Sharma, who was selected to represent Mukesh Singh, 22, had said his client was forced to confess and would plead not guilty.

"He was coerced into admission," said Mr Sharma outside the court on Thursday morning before the hearing. "He's unable to speak now.

"All these people have been tortured badly. It's under pressure that they have made statements in court," he added.

"Evidence has been manipulated to calm the anger among people."

Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat refused to comment on the allegations, citing legal restrictions.

Sunil Gupta, a spokesman for Tihar Jail where the suspects are being held, told the BBC all the accused were being kept in different sections of the jail "and their safety is guaranteed".

Earlier, Mr Sharma said he would also represent two other suspects - but they are now being represented by other lawyers.

At least one other suspect, Pawan Gupta, plans to plead not guilty too, his lawyer confirmed. It is unclear how the other three suspects will plead.

Prosecutors have said they have extensive forensic evidence.

Chaotic scenes

India's fast-track courts

  • Some 1,200 fast-track courts are operating in India as of March 2012
  • In Delhi, six fast-track courts are to be set up for the trial of cases related to crimes against women, especially rape. Some other states such as Punjab and Maharashtra are also setting up fast-track courts for this purpose
  • In 2000, central government started a scheme for more than 1,700 fast-track courts to try to clear the backlog of cases clogging up the Indian judicial system, partly related to a shortage of judges
  • Funding is an issue because the central government said it could no longer fund them after March 2011, leaving future funding decisions to individual states.

The magistrate has ordered that the preliminary hearings be held behind closed doors and has put restraints on media reporting.

There were chaotic scenes in the Delhi court on Monday when the group appeared for the first time.

Lawyers argued with each other over representation and the magistrate adjourned the hearing, moving it behind closed doors.

Separately, the Delhi High Court has criticised the city's police over the gang rape incident on 16 December.

The court said on Wednesday that only one police officer had been suspended in connection with the incident, and asked the police: "Why are you trying to save the errant policemen?"

The victim, who cannot be named in India for legal reasons, and a male friend were attacked on a bus in south Delhi. She died two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore.

Campaigners are calling for tougher rape laws and reforms to the police, who - critics say - often fail to file charges against those accused of attacks.

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