NEW DELHI — Police badly beat the five suspects arrested in the brutal gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the lawyer for one of the men said Thursday, accusing authorities of tampering with evidence in a case that has transfixed India.
‘‘They are innocent,’’ Manohar Lal Sharma said of the five suspects ahead of a court hearing, which ended quickly after officials said the court’s paperwork of the charges was illegible.
Sharma said police also placed prisoners into the suspects’ cells to threaten them with knives, adding, ‘‘You can’t believe the reality of Indian prisons.’’
Five men have been charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and a male friend on a bus as it was driven through India’s capital. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on Dec. 16 and eventually died of her injuries. Rape victims are not identified in India, even if they die, and rape trials are closed to the media.
Sharma, who has made a series of inflammatory and often-contradictory statements over the past two days, at one point Thursday said the dead woman’s male companion, who boarded the bus with her after the pair saw a movie together, was ‘‘responsible for the whole thing.’’ He gave no details, though, and a few hours later said the man’s responsibility ‘‘was only my opinion.’’
The case has sparked protests across India by women and men who say their legal system doesn’t do enough to prevent attacks on women. Women have told stories of relentless abuse — from catcalls to rapes — and of a police and judicial system that does little to stop it, often accusing victims of unchaste behavior.
The woman and her male friend were coming home from a movie when they boarded a bus that police say was carrying the defendants, who were traveling together on a joy ride through the city. The woman’s friend, who has not been identified, has said he tried to defend the woman but was soon beaten unconscious. Authorities say the two were dumped off the bus, naked and bloody, later.
Sharma said that authorities, under pressure to quickly wrap up the case, would convict the suspects no matter what evidence, including forcing them to incriminate themselves.
‘‘What happened to this woman was so heinous, so horrible,’’ Sharma said, adding that, ‘‘the police will manipulate the facts.’’
Sharma spoke to reporters before a court hearing for the suspects. While Sharma had said he represented three of the suspects — bus driver Ram Singh, Singh’s brother Mukesh, and another man, Akshay Thakur — the court eventually approved him to serve as the lawyer only for Mukesh Singh.