Another Delhi gangrape accused claims he is juvenile

As the Delhi gangrape case came up before the special fast track court on Monday, a second accused claimed he was under the age of 18 and asked to be treated as juvenile, his lawyer said.

Vinay Sharma, an assistant gym instructor, moved an application before the fast track court of Additional Sessions Judge Yogesh Khanna asking to be put through a bone ossification test, his lawyer A P Singh told reporters outside the court. Reporters have been barred from covering the proceedings of the court.

Sharma had in earlier proceedings before the magistrate's court refused to undergo a test identification parade and expressed "remorse at the horrible crime". Police have recorded his age as 20.

Singh, who is representing Sharma and another accused Akshay Thakur, said Sharma's earlier statement had been made "under pressure of police", at a time when he had no lawyer. "The boy's mother has said that the school certificate that records his date of birth as being in March 1994 is wrong, and they (the family) had deliberately given an older age to the school so that the boy could be enrolled a year early," Singh said.

He added, "Vinay's actual date of birth is March 1, 1995, which makes him less than 18 years of age. We have now asked the court to conduct a bone density test to check his age."

Singh said the court has asked the prosecution to reply to Sharma's application on the next date of hearing.

The five men accused of brutally gangraping a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus on December 16 evening Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan Kumar, Sharma and Thakur were produced before the fast track court on Monday with their faces covered. The sixth accused, who has claimed to be a minor but who is thought to have been the most violent of the attackers, is facing an inquiry into his age by the Juvenile Justice Board.

The victim died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.

The judge asked reporters, lawyers and other people unconnected to the case to leave the courtroom, observing that this was necessary in view of the sensitivity of the matter and the security of the complainant and the accused. Special Public Prosecutor Dayan Krishnan had earlier told the court that the prosecution would have no objection if the court passed orders allowing publication of the "broad outlines" of the proceedings, as long as the provision of in camera proceedings and ban on detailed media coverage were followed.

"Reporting of proceedings by the media, under section 327 (3), is up to the court to decide," Krishnan said.

The court, however, said "it shall not be lawful... to publish or print any matter relating to the proceedings of this case except with the prior permission of the court, till the trial".

The court will now begin hearing arguments on the framing of charges against the five accused on January 24.

Some 200 protesters who had gathered outside the court complex in Saket in the morning were dispersed within minutes by the police. Members of the "global campaign" Avaaz protested from about 10 am to 1.30 pm outside the complex gate, with school and college students holding signs that read "My clothes are not an invitation for rape".

The protesters, including both Indian and foreign volunteers, said they had gathered over 1.1 million signatures on an online petition asking the government to launch a "mass awareness and sex education campaign" to change the mindset of people. The petition, which has over 41,000 signatures from India, was submitted to the J S Verma committee and forwarded to the home ministry, Pascal Vollenwider, a volunteer from Switzerland, said.

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