Calls for death penalty ahead of India gang-rape verdict

Calls for death penalty ahead of India gang-rape verdict

NEW DELHI, Delhi province - The family of a student who died after being brutally gang-raped in New Delhi has called for the death penalty on the eve of a court's verdict on her alleged attackers.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict on Tuesday after concluding a trial against four adults over the assault on a moving bus in December, a crime that shone a global spotlight on the rise of violence against women in India.

The New Delhi court heard that the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was repeatedly raped by six men and violated with an iron rod after being lured onto the private bus following a trip to the movies with a male friend.

The student and her friend were thrown, naked and bleeding, from the bus onto a roadside.

The student, who made statements to police from her hospital bed about her attackers, died two weeks later from internal injuries inflicted during the incident.

A teenager was this month given the maximum punishment of three years in a detention centre after he was found guilty of taking part in the attack, igniting demands for harsher punishments for juvenile offenders.

Bitterly disappointed with that sentence, the victim's father called for the four adults to be pronounced guilty and ultimately hanged, to finally give his family some sense of closure.

"We will not accept anything below the death penalty," the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told AFP from his home in southwestern Delhi.

"Anything other than the gallows for these men will not be right. It would send out the wrong message, people will lose trust in our judicial system."

He added: "If all four are sentenced to death, I can't imagine anything being better than that. Nothing could get better ... We will get closure.

"It will bring peace to our minds and to the whole country."

The attack sparked weeks of sometimes violent street protests amid seething public anger about sex crimes against women in India.

It also led to tougher laws for sex offenders, including the death penalty for rapists whose victims die or are left in a vegetative state.


But savage attacks against women are still reported daily in India's newspapers and the gang-rape of a photographer last month near an upmarket area of Mumbai rekindled public disgust.

Women's groups said the death penalty in this case was unlikely to deter future offenders, pointing to the need for increased education about the severity of such crimes as well as respect for women.

"People who commit crimes against women, they are not fearful of the law because they don't know what it is," Charu Walikhanna, member of the National Commission for Women, told AFP.

The presiding judge in the Delhi case, Yogesh Khanna, said last week that he would deliver his verdict after a seven-month trial in a special fast-track court.

Khanna dismissed requests from defence lawyers for more time, but last-minute legal challenges could still delay Tuesday's verdict. The sentence against the juvenile was deferred four times before being handed down.

During the trial, the prosecution laid out evidence against the four accused, including DNA, statements from the male companion, who was beaten up during the attack, as well as the victim's dying testimony.

"What is so significant about this case is the extreme brutality of the injury, the extreme torture. The nature of the injury is such it is clear that they intended to murder their victims," special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the court during final arguments.

The four men, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have pleaded not guilty to the charges which include murder, rape and theft.

A fifth adult, alleged ringleader Ram Singh, was found dead in his jail cell in March in an apparent suicide.

The men, ranging in age from 19 to 35, mostly live in one of Delhi's many slums.

The mother of Vinay Sharma described her son as a religious man who was studying commerce while working at a gym part-time. He was not even on the bus on the night of the attack, she said.

"He has been wrongly implicated in this case. He had a fight with Ram Singh and he in turn named him before the police out of revenge," she told AFP.

"He went to work, studied and stayed home. He did not loiter around."

Lawyers for the defendants said they were confident of a "just and fair" verdict, saying they have been given every chance to prove inconsistencies in the prosecution's case.

A. P. Singh, lawyer for Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, said he expected that if the men were found guilty, the judge would deliver the sentences two or three days later.

"We have done our best and we are now hoping for the best," Singh told AFP.


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