Delhi High Court lifts media gag on gang rape trial

NEW DELHI Fri Mar 22, 2013 5:26pm IST

A police van carrying five men accused of the gang rape and murder of a student leaves a court in New Delhi January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

A police van carrying five men accused of the gang rape and murder of a student leaves a court in New Delhi January 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A court on Friday lifted a gag order on the media covering the trial of a group of men accused of raping and killing a student in Delhi, a move that will shed light on the daily hearings in a case which sparked global outrage.

A court had banned hundreds of 24-hour news channels, newspapers and foreign media from reporting the trial. But that order was revoked by the Delhi High Court following an appeal by an activist lawyer who said the hearings should be transparent.

Police say five men and a juvenile raped and tortured a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus in December last year, and then tossed her naked and bleeding body on to the road.

The student, whose name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, died in a Singapore hospital two weeks later. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges of gang rape and murder. The juvenile is being tried separately.

The student's death stunned India and sparked street protests, uproar in parliament and provoked months of debate on the safety of women in the world's largest democracy.

Lifting the gag order could uncover previously unknown details in the case that has already seen several twists, including the sensational death of the group's alleged ringleader Ram Singh, found hanged in a Delhi's Tihar prison earlier this month.

"The Delhi High Court order is a victory of freedom of the press," Meenakshi Lekhi, a Supreme Court lawyer who petitioned for the media ban to be overturned, told Reuters.

BURSTING INTO TEARS

At the first hearing since the media ban was lifted on Friday, the four accused stood listening to police evidence.

Every now and then the defence and prosecution lawyers engaged in verbal spats, prompting Judge Yogesh Khanna to say: "What is this? There are people from various institutions seated here today, including the media, and look at how you're behaving."

A police officer described raiding the home of one of the accused, Akshay Thakur, retrieving a pair of jeans believed to have been worn on the day of the rape, covered in blood patches around the pockets and the groin.

At the end of the hearing, the parents of co-accused Vinay Sharma walked into the court room. He burst into tears, walked towards his parents and touched their feet as a mark of respect.

On Thursday, parliament approved a tough new law to punish sex crimes, including death for repeat rape offenders, criminalising voyeurism, and making acid attacks and human trafficking specific offences.

Other cases of sexual assault after the Delhi case have received extensive coverage in the media, including the gang rape of a Swiss tourist who was camping with her husband in a forest in Madhya Pradesh.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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