Men convicted of gang-rape and murder face death penalty
AN Indian court has convicted the four men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a medical student on a bus in the capital Delhi last year - a crime that stunned the country and sparked a debate about the position of women in Indian society.
A judge in Delhi announced the verdict this morning, finding the men guilty of more than a dozen charges they all faced.
The punishment is to be set on Wednesday when it is likely the judge will sentence the men to be hanged.
"I convict all of the accused," said the judge, Yogesh Khanna, according to reporters inside the small, packed courtroom. "They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence.. and for committing the murder of the helpless victim."
The parents of the young woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were in the court, seated just a few feet from the four men. The mother wiped a tear from her face as the judge made his announcement. Police then hurried the men out of the court and drove them back to jail.
During the seven-month trial, held in a specially established fast-track court and from which the media was prohibited from attending large parts of, prosecutors said that bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh, gym instructor Vinay Sharma, fruit-seller Pawan Gupta, and Mukesh Singh, who was unemployed, lured the woman and a male friend onto a bus on the night of 16 December as the pair returned home from watching a movie.
As the men drove the bus through the streets of Delhi, they repeatedly raped and internally assaulted the 23-year-old with a metal bar before stripping her and her friend naked and throwing them from the vehicle. The bus was usually driven by Ram Singh, another of those originally charged but who was found hanging in his cell earlier this year.
The young woman's friend, Awindra Pandey, recovered from his injuries but the physiotherapy student died two week later in a hospital in Singapore where she had been sent for specialist emergency treatment.
On Tuesday, lawyers for the convicted men insisted their clients were innocent and said they would appeal against the verdict.
AP Singh, who represents Akshay Kumar Singh and Vinay Sharma, said the two men were not present on the bus and played no part in the attack. "They were expecting to be found guilty even though they are not," he said.
VK Anand, who represents Mukesh Singh, brother of the late Ram Singh, said his client had been driving the bus but that he had not been involved in the attack itself. "His role was very limited," claimed the lawyer. "He had a certain role, a very limited role in the case."
As Mr Anand spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, the parents of Mukesh and Ram Singh sat, bent over double, and sobbed. They were too upset to comment.
The court where judge Yogesh Khanna heard the case is located just yards from the shopping mall where the victim and Mr Pandey watched the film Life of Pi on the evening of the attack. During the trial, the judge heard 85 prosecution and 17 defence witnesses in a total of 117 hearings.
In the aftermath of the December 16 attack, police arrested six males, including a teenager who was aged 17 at the time of the assault. 10 days ago, the teenager, now aged 18, was also convicted of gang-rape and murder and sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention facility as he was a minor at the time of the crime. This was the the maximum punishment available to the court.
On Tuesday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the court dressed as hangmen, demanding that the men be sentenced to death. The group, December 16 Revolution, also wants the government to introduce more fast-track courts and to recognise marital rape as a crime.
"We are hoping they will be hanged," said one of the protesters, Vikas Tyagi. "If people know they will get the death sentence such cases will stop."