India gang rape suspects plead not guilty

If found guilty, the five could receive the death penalty

Five suspects have pleaded not guilty to the gang rape and murder of a woman which sparked nationwide fury over the treatment of women and the state's efforts to protect them.

The men have been formally indicted on 13 charges, including rape and murder. According to one of their lawyers, who cannot be identified under a gag order imposed by the court, the men signed statements in the fast-track court saying they were innocent.

The five are Ram Singh, 33; his brother and assistant Mukesh Singh, 26; fruit vendor Pavan Gupta, 19; bus washer Akshay Singh, 24; and fitness trainer Vinay Sharma, 20.

Police said the victim- a 23-year-old physiotherapy student- and a male friend were attacked after boarding a bus on December 16 as they tried to return home after watching a film.

The six men, the only occupants of the private bus, beat the man with a metal bar, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict massive internal injuries to her, police say.

The victims were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

Witness testimony will start on Tuesday.

If found guilty, the five could receive the death penalty.

The sixth suspect, who is 17, will be tried in a juvenile court. He could face a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility if he is convicted as a juvenile.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, details within the charge sheet describe the youngest attacker as the most brutal, sexually assaulting her twice before further mutilating her unconscious body and suggesting she should then be thrown naked from the moving vehicle.

On Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Cabinet approved an ordinance to introduce stricter penalties for crimes against women, including death in extreme cases of rape. It also approved increasing the maximum seven-year sentence for rape to 20 years and imposing stiff punishments for crimes such as stalking, cyber stalking and voyeurism.

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