Lawyers boycott defense of India rape suspects

By Aliza Kassim

(CNN) -- Top lawyers in the India district where a woman was gang-raped are saying that they will not represent the six men accused in the attack, which led to her death.

The 11 lawyers who make up the executive board of the Saket Bar Association on Wednesday vowed not to represent any of the accused assailants because of the nature of the crime. The brutal attack galvanized the nation and has led to protests by outraged citizens.

In addition, the bar association has appealed to its 7,000 members to also refrain from representing the accused, said the association's president, Rajpal Kasana.

"We are not taking this case on the grounds of humanity," he said.

The boycott by the bar association does not mean the accused will not have lawyers. Attorneys from other districts or ones appointed by the court will likely fill that role.

"We want it to be clear that we will not obstruct or stand in the way of any lawyer who is court-appointed or who represents these assailants -- we do realize that they will be defended by someone, most possibly legal aid," Kasana said.

The call for local lawyers to avoid defending the accused is unprecedented, but justified because "everyone is emotionally attached to this case," he said.

The 23-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, died last week in a Singapore hospital, where she received treatment after being airlifted from New Delhi.

Attackers assaulted the woman and her male companion on a bus December 16, robbing them of their belongings before dumping them at the side of a road, police said.

The male companion was eventually discharged from a hospital.

Singapore doctors said the woman died "peacefully" early Saturday, surrounded by her family and Indian Embassy officials. She had been in "extremely critical condition" since her arrival.

The brutal attack and the woman's death have sparked widespread debate over the way the country handles sexual assaults, and the treatment of women in Indian society.

Lawmakers are weighing a proposal to toughen the country's anti-rape law. Some have suggested a new law should be named after the woman, while others have said it's illegal to reveal her identity.

The victim's father told CNN affiliate IBN that he supported naming a new law after his daughter.

"All I ask is that the law is the toughest it can be," he said. "The death penalty is compulsory for a crime so grave the assailants must be hanged. The courts must give these men the death penalty."

India's Supreme Court on Thursday will hear a petition asking it to suspend all lawmakers who face charges for crimes against women. The petition was filed in the aftermath of the brutal gang-rape, which sent thousands of outraged protesters to the streets for days.

"This unfortunate episode has galvanized the nation," said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which tracks political candidate's criminal records.

Chhokar said six Indian state lawmakers are facing rape charges in unrelated cases, and two people in the federal parliament are also facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of charges of rape.

The group says that in the past five years, political parties across India have nominated 260 candidates facing charges of crimes against women such as assault and outraging the modesty of a woman.


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