Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Indian bus rape was companion's fault: lawyer

Also claims police beat five suspects

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NEW DELHI -- Police badly beat the five suspects arrested in the brutal gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the lawyer for one of the men said Thursday, accusing authorities of tampering with evidence in the case that has transfixed India.

"They are innocent," Manohar Lal Sharma said of the five suspects ahead of a court hearing, which ended quickly after it turned out some of the official court paperwork listing the charges was illegible. He said police have beaten the men and placed other prisoners into the suspects' cells to threaten them with knives, adding, "You can't believe the reality of Indian prisons."

Five men have been charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and a male friend on a bus as it was driven through the streets of India's capital. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on Dec. 16 and eventually died of her injuries. Rape victims are not identified in India, even if they die, and rape trials are closed to the media.

Sharma, who has made a series of inflammatory and often-contradictory statements over the past two days, at one point Thursday said the dead woman's male companion, who boarded the bus with her after the pair saw a movie together, was "responsible for the whole thing." He gave no details, though, and a few hours later said the man's responsibility "was only my opinion."

The case has sparked protests across India by women and men who say India's legal system doesn't do enough to prevent attacks on women. Women have told stories of relentless abuse -- from catcalls to bus gropings to rapes -- and of a police and judicial system that does little to stop it, often blaming victims' unchaste behaviour.

The woman and her male friend were coming home from a movie at a New Delhi mall when they boarded a bus police say was carrying the defendants, who were travelling together on a joyride through the city. The woman's friend, who has not been identified, has said he tried to defend the woman but was soon beaten unconscious. Authorities say the two were dumped off the bus, naked and bloody, later.

Sharma said authorities, under pressure to quickly wrap up the case, would convict the suspects no matter what evidence, including forcing them to make incriminating statements.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2013 A17

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