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India's top court upholds death sentences over brutal 2012 gang-rape

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian defense lawyer AP Singh representing men accused of gang-raping and murdering a woman in 2012 talks to the media outside India's supreme court building in New Delhi on July 9, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

India's Supreme Court has upheld death sentences handed down to three men over the notorious 2012 gang-rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi that sparked national protests.

"The review petition of all the three convicts has been rejected," A. P. Singh, a lawyer for the defendants, told reporters on Monday.

"Justice should be for everyone. Injustice has been meted out to them. The court has taken a decision against these kids (convicts) under political and media pressure," the lawyer noted.

But the defendants' lawyer said he would file a curative petition, the last legal challenge. If that fails, they could seek a pardon from the president.

Jyoti Singh, a medical student, was raped by a gang of five men and a teenager on a bus in December 2012.The six gang raped and tortured the woman with an iron bar as the bus drove loops through the Indian capital.

The 23-year-old woman was dumped on the streets with horrific internal injuries, and died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital.

Four men were convicted in September 2013 for murder, gang rape, theft, conspiracy and "unnatural acts" after a seven-month trial in a fast-track court.

Only three of them were involved in the appeal rejected on Monday.

A fifth man was found dead in jail in a suspected suicide, while a 17-year-old was sentenced to three years in a detention center and has since been released.

The victim's parents on Monday welcomed the ruling, with her mother Asha Singh saying it was "very happy news."

"It's a great message for the entire society. This verdict is meant for society, women and all of us," father Badrinath Singh said.

The brutality of the attack triggered angry demonstrations by tens of thousands of people in Delhi and nationwide.

The case also put the treatment of women in India in the global spotlight and led to heavier sentences for sex crimes.

Indian activists and students hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against silence over the rape of a child near Jammu and a rape case in Uttar Pradesh State, in New Delhi, India, on April 12, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Following the 2012 case and subsequent violent protests, there were demands to overhaul the laws on sexual assaults.

A panel entrusted with reviewing legislation rejected public appeals for the death penalty for rape but boosted the jail terms to 20 years. But the government then buckled under public pressure and approved capital punishment for repeat offenders.

Indian school girls hold placards during a silent protest rally against the recent rape cases of two teenage girls in the Chatra and Pakur districts of Jharkhand, in Ranchi, India, on May 8, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

According to the most recent official figures available, there were some 40,000 rapes reported in India in 2016.

But rights activists say this is just the tip of the iceberg as many victims are afraid to report the crimes due to threats by perpetrators. Thousands more go unreported because of a perceived stigma.

In the latest horrific sex assault in the country, five women working for a charity in remote eastern India were abducted and gang-raped at gunpoint.

In recent months, a string of sex attacks, mostly of children, have caused further outrage and protests.

This included the attack on an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic community in January.  The girl from the northern Jammu region died after being kidnapped, drugged and gang raped by several men for days at a Hindu temple.

This led to the introduction of the death sentence for raping girls younger than 12.

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