KOLKATA - Five men have been arrested over the alleged gang-rape and extortion of a Japanese tourist held as a sex slave for nearly a month in a basement near a famous Buddhist shrine in India, officials said Sunday.
The 22-year-old's ordeal began in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, where she was befriended by three local men shortly after arriving on November 20, one of the city's top police officers told AFP.
The men, one of whom spoke Japanese, first managed to persuade her to withdraw around $1,200 dollars in cash before travelling with her to the holy shrine of Bodh Gaya in the neighbouring state of Bihar.
There she was then handed over to two brothers who allegedly locked her in a secluded underground room and repeatedly raped her for nearly a month.
The case is the latest in a string of high-profile sex attacks that have highlighted the frightening levels of violence against women in the world's second most populous country.
The two brothers, who were working as tourist guides, were arrested on Friday and taken to Kolkata where they appeared in court late Saturday. A magistrate ordered that they be remanded in custody until January 9 for an identification parade.
Kolkata joint police commissioner Pallab Kanti Ghosh said the other three men were being held on suspicion of extorting money from the victim and then handing her over to the alleged rapists.
"We have arrested three people who befriended the victim in Kolkata. They have been charged with common conspiracy and intention to kidnap and rape," the commissioner said.
"The men managed to extort 76,000 rupees ($1,200) from her and convinced her to travel to Bodh Gaya with them in their car."
The woman managed to escape from Gaya and reached the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, where she met some Japanese tourists who helped her contact the consulate in Kolkata.
Although it was not immediately clear when her ordeal ended, police said she filed the police report in the last week of December.
"(When) we came to know of the incident... we assisted her in registering the complaint with the police," Japan's consul-general in Kolkata, Kazumi Endo, told AFP.
Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma conceded that the incident would dent India's image further.
"We are only getting 69 lakh (6.9 million) tourists in a year so that's a matter of concern for us. (We have) to take care of the security of travellers," he told CNN-IBN news network.
Samina Khatoon, sister of the men arrested in Gaya, denied the charge of gang rape and demanded a thorough probe into the incident.
"We also want a medical examination of the victim. It will prove that my brothers are innocent," she told AFP by phone.
India has faced intense scrutiny over its efforts to curb violence against women following the fatal gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, which sparked a global outcry.
Sex attacks against women from Western countries, including the US and Britain, have received major media coverage and tourism bosses are wary of their negative impact.
In January 2014 a 51-year-old Danish tourist was robbed and gang-raped at knifepoint in Delhi in a case that grabbed national and international headlines.
In 2013 a Swiss cyclist holidaying in the central state of Madhya Pradesh was robbed and raped by five men, all of whom were later jailed for life.
However, crimes against women from Asian countries have received noticeably less attention. This latest case was only a small news item and was largely ignored by the rolling news networks.
The attack echoes that of a 25-year-old Japanese woman who was gang-raped in 2010 while she was on her way to the railway station in Gaya.