India PM promises prompt action on rape law advice Gang-rape accused to be formally charged on Saturday: lawyer

NEW DELHI, Jan 30, (Agencies): Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday that his government will act promptly to implement the recommendations of a commission on how to improve laws dealing with crimes against women.

A week after the government-appointed panel submitted its report, Singh wrote to retired Chief Justice J.S. Verma, head of the three-member commission, to thank him for its rapid work.

“On behalf of our government, I assure you that we will be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the committee,” Singh said.

The panel was set up in response to the fatal gang rape last month of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi. The commission received more than 80,000 suggestions for ways to overhaul the criminal justice system’s treatment of violence against women.

Police say the victim and a male friend were attacked after boarding the bus on Dec 16. The attackers beat the man and raped the woman, inflicting massive internal injuries with a metal bar, police said. The victims were dumped on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The brutal attack set off nationwide protests, sparking a debate about the treatment of women and highlighting the inability of law enforcement agencies to protect them.

The panel’s 630-page report blamed government failures and an erosion of the rule of law for an unsafe environment for women which, it said, allowed men to think they could get away with crimes against females.

The panel recommended an increase in the penalty for rape to 20 years and suggested life terms for gang rape. But it stopped short of recommending the death penalty for rape.

The report also pushed for amendments to the law to include crimes like stalking, cyber stalking and voyeurism and suggested stiff punishments for such crimes.

The panel also recommended that police and other officials who fail to act against crimes against women be punished. It suggested that the government appoint more judges to lessen the backlog of cases and ensure swift justice.

Meanwhile, five men accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December will be formally charged in court on Saturday, setting the stage for the start of their trial, a defence lawyer said.

The case brought thousands of protesters onto the streets and ignited intense public debate over the failure of the police and the government to stem rampant violence against women in India.

A strictly enforced media blackout on the court proceedings means there will likely be few details about the trial, leaving many with unanswered questions about an attack that was shocking in its brutality.
Prosecutors say they have a large file of evidence, including DNA from blood-stained clothing recovered by police.

The five accused will plead not guilty to rape and murder, one of the defence lawyers said. Defence counsel have told Reuters they will argue that the DNA evidence was fabricated and at least two of the accused will say they made confessions after they were tortured in custody.

The five, who police say range in age from 19 to 34, have been appearing in court almost daily for pre-trial hearings on the framing of the charges. They arrived at court on Wednesday wearing scarves to conceal their faces.

Defence lawyer A.P. Singh, who represents two of the accused, said the court would begin formally charging the five men on Saturday. The prosecution wants the men tried for rape, kidnapping, murder and robbery, among other charges.

The court may not complete the process on Saturday and could continue on Monday, Singh said. The trial would begin immediately afterwards.

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