File photo of a protest rally at India Gate following the Delhi gang rape
New Delhi - Five men accused of raping a 23-year-old paramedical student on a moving bus on December 16, who later died from her injuries, pleaded not guilty at a fast-track court in Delhi on Saturday. “The judge read out the charges and all five accused have pleaded not guilty,” A P Singh, a lawyer for two of the accused, told reporters outside the court.
“They (the accused) submitted to the judge that they were innocent and all allegations by the police are false and fabricated. They walked out of the court soon after,” Singh said. “The trial process will begin on February 5 with the recording of evidence, when the prosecution will call three witnesses to depose in court,” Singh said.
Earlier, Additional Sessions Judge Yogendra Khanna framed the charges of murder, gang rape and kidnapping, among others, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the accused. The five accused are Ram Singh, a bus driver, and his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller, Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor, and Akshay Thakur, a bus cleaner.
They are currently lodged in Tihar Jail. The other charges framed against them are unnatural offence, destruction of evidence, attempt to murder, causing hurt while committing robbery, dacoity with murder, and common intent.
The court will begin hearing the evidence of witnesses on Tuesday. A sixth suspect, who is 17 years old, will be tried in a juvenile court and could face a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility if convicted.
A conviction as an adult could have led to his execution. The pre-trial proceedings in the case started on January 21 at the fasttrack court, which was set up for the case that led to a nationwide outrage against crimes against women.
The accused were formally charged by the police in the Saket court 18 days after they gang-raped and tortured the 23-year-old, causing multiple-organ failure that led to her death.
They also assaulted her 28-yearold male friend. Both were thrown out of the bus after around 40 minutes, naked, bleeding and shivering. The friend is the main witness in the case. The charge sheet, with annexures, runs into thousands of pages and includes the victim's statement, details of the accused, evidence and forensic reports.
The union cabinet on Friday approved an ordinance for enhanced punishment in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking, as suggested by the Justice J S Verma Committee. The government has recommended to President Pranab Mukherjee that an ordinance be issued.
The Verma Committee, set up by the government Dec 23, 2012 after the gang-rape to review laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault, submitted its report January 23.