India gang-rape trial starts with testimony from victim’s friend

Updated 05 February 2013
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India gang-rape trial starts with testimony from victim’s friend

NEW DELHI: The trial of five men charged with gang-raping and murdering a young woman on a bus in New Delhi opened on Tuesday with closed-door testimony from her friend who appeared at court in a wheelchair, still bearing the scars of injuries from the attack.

The 28-year-old software engineer, who may not be identified, is the prosecution’s star witness in a case that has triggered nationwide protests, an intense debate about rampant crime against women in India and tougher anti-rape laws.
The five accused are Vinay Sharma, a gym assistant, Ram Singh, the bus driver, his brother Mukesh Singh, bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh and fruit vendor Pawan Kumar. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of rape and murder. A sixth accused is being tried separately as a juvenile.
Police allege the six attacked the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist and her friend on the bus as the couple returned home from watching a movie on Dec. 16. The woman was repeatedly raped and tortured with a metal bar. The couple were also severely beaten before being thrown onto a road.
The woman died of internal injuries in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.
As the trial got under way, the victim’s father made a surprise appearance at a news conference organized by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to call for his daughter’s attackers to be hanged.
At one stage, the friend, defense lawyers and some policemen moved from the courtroom to a courtyard where the bus on which police say the attack took place was parked.
Journalists saw some of them board the vehicle, which was white with tinted windows and orange curtains. Above the windshield was painted “Praise the Goddess” in Hindi.
The victim’s friend was not seen boarding the bus. The friend’s father said later it was the second time his son had seen the bus since the attack.
In his statement to police after the assault, the friend said their attackers had asked “where are you going with a girl so late at night?” before launching a furious assault in which he was beaten with a metal rod and his clothes ripped off. While he was being beaten, the woman was repeatedly raped, he said, according to a police charge sheet seen by Reuters.
The prosecution says articles stolen from the couple, including their cell phones, rings and debit cards were found in raids conducted on the homes of the accused. DNA evidence and bloodstained clothes also form part of their case.
Defense lawyers say they will highlight what they say are discrepancies in the account given by the victim’s friend.
The five men are being tried in a special fast-track court opposite the shopping mall where the victim and her friend went to watch the film “Life of Pi” before boarding the bus.
About 30 policemen were deployed outside the courtroom on Tuesday as the five accused arrived wearing scarves or handkerchiefs to mask their faces.
 


American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen and Mormon missionary, is pictured in this still image taken from a selfie video which he posted on Facebook during a riot at the Helicoide detention center in Caracas, Venezuela, obtained by Reuters May 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 53 min 33 sec ago
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American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

  • The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela
  • Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President

WASHINGTON: Joshua Holt, who traveled to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry a Spanish-speaking Mormon woman but soon found himself jailed and later branded the CIA’s top spy in Latin America, was set free by the anti-American Maduro government on Saturday in what his family called “this miracle.”
Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport. In video tweeted by the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the couple enter a room to be greeted by the Utah Republican before a hug-filled and tearful reunion with his parents, Laurie and Jason Holt.
When he departed the Caracas airport earlier in the day, Holt told The Associated Press that the ordeal had left him “exhausted.”
Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration says runs a “dictatorship” and just won re-election in a “sham” vote.
Months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Maduro preceded their return. Yet Holt’s release had seemed unlikely even a week ago.
President Donald Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a “hostage” and said he expected to host Holt and his family at the White House on Saturday evening. “Good news about the release,” he wrote. The US contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.
The White House learned from Corker, R-Tennessee, on Friday of Holt’s impending release, according to a US official who has closely followed Holt’s plight and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
Holt and his wife were reunited at the Caracas airport with her daughter from a previous relationship, and all three boarded a chartered flight to Washington. “We are on our way home,” Corker tweeted.
Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said their release was a goodwill gesture that followed months of dialogue between the Maduro government and US lawmakers.
“We’re praying that this type of gesture ... will allow us to strengthen what we’ve always sought: dialogue, harmony, respect for our independence and respect for our sovereignty,” he said.
Holt, now 26, set out for the South American country in June 2016 to marry a woman he met online while he was looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish. He had planned to spend several months in Caracas that summer with his new wife and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the US
Instead, the couple was arrested that June 30 at her family’s apartment in a government housing complex on the outskirts of Caracas. Authorities accused him of stockpiling an assault rifle and grenades, and suggested that his case was linked to other unspecified US attempts to undermine Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.
They were held in a notorious Caracas prison, run by the secret police, that also is home to dozens of top Maduro opponents jailed during the past few years of political unrest in the country. Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention.
Until Trump’s tweet on Saturday, the US had stopped short of publicly calling Holt a “hostage.”
Holt’s release looked unlikely a week ago, when he appeared in a clandestinely shot video railing against the Maduro government and saying his life was threatened in a prison riot. In retaliation, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, a powerful Maduro ally, said on state television that Holt was the CIA’s top spy in Latin America.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke to Trump at length Friday night and later said the couple’s release “will in no way change US policy toward the dictatorship in Venezuela.”
The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela for Maduro’s decision to go forward with the presidential election last week.
The US government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela in light of their already strained relations, but eventually raised Holt’s case with the highest levels of the Venezuelan government and decried his treatment in prison.
Corker was seen live on state TV on Friday shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. Corker left an hour later; neither the senator nor the president made any statements.
Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said her son and his wife were wrongly accused. She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son’s incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.
Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, including kidney stones and respiratory problems. He was depressed and at one point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.
In their statement, the Holt family said, “We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle.”