Students shout slogans during a protest against a leader of the ruling Congress party, who was arrested on accusations he raped a woman in a village in the early hours of the morning, in Gauhati, India, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.(Photo: Anupam Nath, AP)
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
MORE: India set for murder, rape charges in gang attack
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 BBC also reported
that Sharma is alleging that the accused were "coerced into admitting
the crime." The BBC cited comments made by Sharma as he made his way
into court on Thursday morning. "All these men have been tortured badly.
It's under pressure that they have made statements in court," Sharma
reportedly said, according to the BBC.
While Sharma had said he
represented three of the suspects - bus driver Ram Singh, Singh's
brother Mukesh, and another man, Akshay Thakur - the court eventually
approved him to serve as the lawyer only for Mukesh Singh. Other lawyers
were assigned to three other suspects, and it was not immediately clear
why the fifth had no assigned lawyer.
Thursday's hearing had
been expected to result in the case being sent to a special "fast-track"
court. India's legal system is painfully slow, corrupt and inefficient,
with many cases lasting years, even decades.
But much of the work
of the hearing had to be postponed until Oct. 14, after lawyers found
that some of the official paperwork was not legible.