NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Saturday stayed the death sentence of two of the four men convicted of the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi, an attack that horrified the country and sparked weeks of protests.
The court suspended the execution of the two men, Mukesh Singh, 27, and Pawan Gupta, 20, while an appeal of their conviction is heard and asked officials to “communicate the order to prison authorities”.
The two court judges held an emergency sitting Saturday to hear the appeal for the stay of execution. It was not immediately known when the executions had been slated to be carried out.
The two convicts had appealed to the Supreme Court after the High Court earlier this week upheld the death penalty handed out last September to the four men convicted of gang raping and murdering the 23-year-old woman.
The physiotherapy student was attacked with an iron rod after she was tricked into boarding a private bus to go home from the cinema with a male friend.
Her male companion had been badly beaten and could not come to her aid as she was assaulted on the moving bus by six attackers.
The pair were later dumped naked and bleeding on the roadside.
Relatives of the two convicts were in the court when the decision was announced. Defence lawyer M.L. Sharma told reporters after the court hearing that the case against his clients “is a false story concocted by police”.
He said the two men had based their Supreme Court appeal on the ground that the High Court “has not appreciated the evidence correctly”.
Sharma alleged that police had vastly exaggerated the extent of the victim’s internal injuries.
The Delhi High Court on Thursday upheld the four men’s death sentences, calling the crime “gruesome” and saying the case fell into the “rarest of rare category” which warrant execution.
The Supreme Court was told the other two men convicted of the attack, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur, had not approached the top court to appeal.
A fifth suspect was discovered dead in his jail last year in what authorities said was a suspected suicide.
The sixth attacker, a juvenile at the time of the crime, is serving a three-year sentence.
The young woman died 13 days following the attack from the injuries inflicted after being airlifted to a Singapore hospital for specialist treatment.
But the victim, whose father was an airport baggage handler, survived long enough to give enough information to police to allow them to arrest her attackers, whose trial was fast-tracked.
Even in a country where brutal crimes are often reported, the savageness of the attack appalled the nation and triggered huge street demonstrations as well as soul-searching about India’s treatment of women.
The case led to tougher rape and sexual assault laws and shone an international spotlight on what women’s groups called a “rape epidemic” in the country.
The parents of the victim, who have been demanding “full justice” for their daughter, could not be immediately reached for comment on the latest development.
But on Thursday the mother of the girl told reporters that, “We have got full faith in the judiciary” and she will be fully satisfied only when “the convicts meet their ultimate fate”.
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