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India's Supreme Court considers petition to transfer rape trial

Women protest outside the Indian High Commission, London January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Women protest outside the Indian High Commission, London January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court will hear a petition on Tuesday by one of the five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a student in a bus to shift the case out of the capital on grounds that the atmosphere was too surcharged to ensure a fair trial.

Last month's assault on the 23-year-old woman on a New Delhi bus triggered an outpouring of anger and grief and calls for swift punishment for the five men and a juvenile who will be y tried separately.

One of the accused, Mukesh Singh, approached the Supreme Court urging the trial be held anywhere but New Delhi, saying both the police and the judiciary were under intense public pressure on the case and that a fair trial was not possible.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice Altamas Kabir will hear the petition on Tuesday, Singh's lawyer, Manohar Lal Sharma, said on Monday.

The petition came as a fast-track court took up the case against the five men who face the death penalty if convicted of the assault on the woman, who was on her way home from a movie, accompanied by a male friend.

The two were lured into the bus and beaten. The woman was so badly assaulted that she died in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.

The five men, who were produced in court on Monday, will plead not guilty, according to their lawyers. Two defence lawyers said their clients had been tortured in custody to give confessions. Police have declined to comment on the allegations.

A.P. Singh, a lawyer for Vinay Sharma, one of the accused, said that he had moved an application in the court, asking for a bone test for his client, claiming he was a juvenile and that he should be tried separately.

Sharma's age according to the police chargesheet has been given as 20. Under Indian rape laws, anyone below the age of 18 has to be tried by a court dealing with juveniles and if convicted has to be sent to a correctional home rather than prison. The jail sentence is also a maximum of three years.

Police are already trying to reconfirm the age of an alleged sixth member of the group who has given his age as 17.

The attack has so incensed ordinary Indians that some have demanded that anyone above the age of 16 should be treated as an adult.

Another defence lawyer, V.K. Anand, said he had moved an application urging the court to make its hearings open to the media. Under Indian laws, a rape trial is usually held in camera to protect the identity of the victim.

The case was adjourned until Thursday, when the court will hear arguments over the charges that the police have brought against the five men, all friends who allegedly went on a joy ride on December 16, looking for women.

Once the court has heard the arguments, it will frame the charges against the men and at that point it will ask if they plead guilty. If not, the trial will proceed.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji and Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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