NEW DELHI -- A lawyer defending one of the six young men accused in a gang rape case that has gripped India claimed on Thursday that his client had been tortured by the police and that his confession had been coerced.
"Yesterday when I found him, he was unable to speak a single word," the lawyer, Manohar Lal Sharma, said in a phone interview, referring to his client, Mukesh, who he said goes by only one name. "He was crying and he was murmuring, saying, 'Help me out! I'm being tortured!' "
Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the New Delhi police, declined to comment on the torture accusations.
The police have accused the men of luring the rape victim, a 23-year-old college student, and her male friend onto a bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16, beating both of them, raping the woman and sexually assaulting her with an iron rod. She died of her injuries two weeks later. Charges against the adult men include rape, murder and attempted murder, and they could face the death penalty if convicted. They are being held in Tihar Jail, a notorious prison in the capital.
A sixth defendant, believed to be 17, is expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform institution. The case against the five adults is expected to be transferred to a special fast-track court on Monday.
Earlier Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg News, Mr. Sharma suggested that the victim was to blame for the attack. "Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady," he was quoted as saying. Asked later about his comments, he said that they had been mischaracterized, and that he held the woman's friend accountable. He said the two should never have been out on a cold Delhi night. "The girl's boyfriend should be punished," he said. "A lady always relies on a man if she's moving with him."
Mr. Sharma's remarks are not unusual in India, where politicians, religious leaders and others have routinely shifted the blame from the attackers in the aftermath of the rape. On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Sharma and a battery of lawyers for the five adult suspects poured out of a court here in New Delhi after completing paperwork authorizing them to prepare a defense. Speaking to reporters, the lawyers tried to paint their clients in a favorable light.
Vivek Sharma, who is no relation to Manohar Lal Sharma, said he agreed to represent a second defendant, Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller, after his client's father approached him and asked for help.
"After hearing his story, I felt it appropriate to represent him," said Mr. Sharma, declining to elaborate on the father's account. He added that he was taking the case pro bono because Mr. Gupta's family was poor and because he believed in his client's innocence.
He also noted that despite the heinous nature of the crime, defendants are legally entitled to representation, a constitutional principle that some lawyers nevertheless vociferously challenged during a chaotic hearing on Monday. "If someone approaches you under the Advocates Act, you cannot refuse," Mr. Sharma said.
Manohar Lal Sharma said his client, Mukesh, was a naïve 22-year-old from a village outside New Delhi who was there on Dec. 16 only to meet his older brother, Ram Singh, another suspect in the case.
A. K. Singh, the lawyer for two other suspects, Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, said he initially refused to represent them. It was only after he was prodded by his own mother, who sympathized with the two men's families, that he accepted the case, he said.
The victim's male friend described the attack in a television interview broadcast last Friday, and a fourth lawyer in the case, V. K. Anand, said he planned to seek a tape of the interview as evidence. Mr. Anand, who is defending Ram Singh, the driver of the bus in which the attacks took place, said, "This is a material piece of evidence which will destroy the prosecution's case."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.