India gang-rape suspects offer evidence for lighter sentences

Five men accused of raping and killing a young student in the Indian capital have arrived at court for pretrial proceedings.

NEW DELHI // Five men accused of the gang rape and murder of an Indian student arrived in court today to hear charges against them, after two of them offered evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence.

The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student when she boarded their bus after going to the cinema in New Delhi on December 16. She died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

The attack on the student has ignited protests against the government and anger towards the police for their perceived failure to protect women. It has also provoked a rare national debate about rising violence against women.

The suspects stepped out of a blue police van that brought them from Tihar jail and walked through a metal detector into the South Delhi court, across the street from the cinema where the victim watched a film before boarding the bus with a male friend three weeks ago.

The accused were taken to a holding cell to await their appearance before a magistrate who will read the charges against them in a procedural step before a trial date is set. The trial is to be held in a special fast-track court session, set up after the attack on the woman.

The magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, said the hearing would be closed to the media and the public and ordered that the packed court be cleared for the safety of the accused.

Earlier, an argument broke out in court when a lawyer offered to defend the men. He was shouted down by colleagues who say the accused do not deserve representation, given the brutality of the crime.

Two of the accused, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, moved an application on Saturday requesting they be made “approvers”, or informers, against the other accused, a public prosecutor in the case, Rajiv Mohan, said.

Mr Sharma and Mr Gupta, along with co-accused Mukesh Kumar, Ram Singh and Akshay Thakur, have already been charged with murder, rape and abduction along with other offences. Mr Mohan said he was seeking the death sentence given the “heinous” crime.

“The five accused persons deserve not less than the death penalty,” he said, echoing public sentiment and calls from the victim’s family.

Members of the bar association in Saket district, where the case is being heard, have vowed not to represent the accused.

Police have conducted extensive interrogations and say they have recorded confessions, even though the five have no lawyers.