Tuesday 20 February 2018

Media barred from India rape case

A police van believed to carrying five men accused of a gang rape arrives at the district court in New Delhi (AP)
A police van believed to carrying five men accused of a gang rape arrives at the district court in New Delhi (AP)

The media has been banned from court in all preliminary and full hearings of the five men accused of raping and killing a young student in New Delhi.

Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal upheld a prosecution request for a closed hearing after hundreds of journalists, lawyers from other cases and curious onlookers had crowded the court where the five were to appear.

Outside more than a dozen TV satellite trucks jammed the streets, and dozens of reporters from India and around the world were left waiting for news.

The five defendants later appeared before the magistrate, who scheduled another pre-trial hearing on Thursday that is expected to result in the case being sent to a special "fast-track" court. Indian courts are notoriously slow, with some cases dragging on for decades. The trial is expected to begin in the coming days. Indian rape trials are normally closed to the media.

Authorities have charged the men with murder, rape and other crimes that could carry the death penalty. The crime caused nationwide outrage, leading to massive protests. A sixth suspect, who is 17, is expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.

Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said last week that a DNA test confirmed that the blood of the victim matched blood stains found on the clothes of all the accused. Two of the defendants have offered to become "approvers," or informers against the others, presumably seeking lighter sentences.

The companion of the student recounted in a television interview last week how the pair was attacked for more than two hours on a New Delhi bus before being thrown on the side of the road, where passers by ignored them and police debated jurisdiction issues before helping them. The student died at a Singapore hospital weeks after the December 16 attack.

Indian law prohibits the disclosure of victims' identities in rape cases. While neither the companion nor the TV network, Zee News, identified the woman, police opened an investigation into Zee News after the interview was broadcast, saying too many details about the attack had been revealed.

The attack has led to calls for tougher rape laws and reforms of a police culture that often blames rape victims and refuses to file charges against accused attackers. The nation's top law enforcement official said the country needs to crack down on crimes against women.

Since the attack New Delhi has set up five fast-track courts to handle sexual assault cases, which often get bogged down for years. Indian courts are notorious for delays, with millions of cases pending across the country.

Press Association

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