India court rejects death sentence appeal in 2012 gang rape

NEW DELHI — India's highest court on Monday rejected the requests of three men to change their death sentences to imprisonment in the 2012 fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi.

The Supreme Court said there were no grounds for changing the men's sentences. The men were among four sentenced to death for an attack that galvanized India, where widespread violence against women had long been quietly accepted.

The Supreme Court last year upheld the Delhi High Court's death penalty order for the four convicts. Three then appealed to the Supreme Court to have the death sentences converted to life imprisonment.

The fourth did not appeal, but his lawyer said they would soon file one, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The court said Monday that the convicts failed to point out "error apparent on the face of record" in the verdict, according to the news agency.

The convicts still have two different processes available for seeking a review of their verdict. They can file one last petition with the Supreme Court, and if it's again rejected, they can seek presidential mercy, said A.P. Singh, the defense attorney.

"This decision has only been made due to media pressure, public pressure, and public sentiments at the time. This is not justice for all," Singh said. "This is an attempt to murder by the State."

In the December 2012 attack, prosecutors said the four took their victim to the back of a private bus in New Delhi, raping her and then damaging her internal organs with an iron rod. She died two weeks later of injuries in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment.

The bus driver, the fifth suspect in the crime, was found hanging in his cell in a prison in March 2013, months before the suspects were convicted.

A sixth suspect was just months short of 18 years when the crime took place. He walked out of a correction home in December 2015 after spending three years there.

The victim's mother, who was present in the court when the order was announced, said she hopes the convicts are hanged "as soon as possible."

"I'll only be completely satisfied when they are hanged, but I have faith in the judicial system. They'll definitely be hanged very soon for the barbarism they committed," Asha Devi said.

Rights activists, opposed to death penalty, said execution will not eradicate violence against women.

The Indian chapter of the Amnesty International said procedural and institutional reforms are needed to curb the crimes against women.

"There is no evidence to show that the death penalty acts as a deterrent for sexual violence or any other crime," said Asmita Basu, a top official of the global rights organization in India. "All too often lawmakers in India hold up capital punishment as a symbol of their resolve to tackle crime, and choose to ignore more difficult and effective solutions like improving investigations, prosecutions and support for victims' families."

Violent crime against women has been on the rise in India despite tough laws that were enacted in 2013 following the fatal gang rape. The widespread outrage across India prompted quick action on legislation that doubled prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalized voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

Indian lawmakers also voted to lower to 16 from 18 the age at which a person can be tried as an adult for heinous crimes.

According to India's official records on crime, 38,947 women were raped in 2016, which included over 2,000 girls below 12 years age. Overall in 2016, 338,954 girls and women were subjected to crimes like molestation, kidnappings and cruelty by husband or relatives.

Despite stringent laws and repeated protests, courts notoriously are still slow in the country, where women are often relegated to second-class citizenship.

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