Three Delhi gang rape suspects to plead not guilty

People shout slogans against guru Asharam in Delhi protest - 8 January
Image caption There has been anger against public figures perceived to blame women themselves for rape

Three of the five men accused of the abduction, gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi will plead not guilty to all charges against them, their lawyer has said.

Manohar Lal Sharma told the BBC the three - Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur and Ram Singh - should get a fair trial.

The five accused were charged on Monday. The next hearing in the case will be held on Thursday.

The case has shocked India and prompted a debate about the treatment of women.

A sixth suspect, who is thought to be 17, will be tried separately in a youth court if it is confirmed he is a minor.

On Thursday, a magistrate is expected to transfer the case for trial to a special fast-track court.

If convicted, the suspects could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have said they have extensive forensic evidence.

Public outcry

Mr Sharma said he would file a representation letter on behalf of his clients on Thursday.

"I believe the accused should get a fair trial and I have come forward to represent them," he said, adding that he plans to challenge the police over their handling of the evidence linking the accused to the case.

It is not clear how the other two suspects - Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma - will plead or who will represent them.

Earlier reports said they had offered to give evidence, possibly in return for a lighter sentence.

The lawyers' association in the district of Saket, where hearings in the case are being held, has refused to defend the accused because of the outcry the crime has provoked.

The case has triggered numerous protests, as have suggestions by various public figures that women themselves can be partly to blame for being raped.

Most recently the popular guru Asharam, known to his followers as "Bapu" or father, told followers that the tragedy would not have happened if the victim had chanted God's name and fallen at the feet of the attackers.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, condemned the remarks.

"For him to make the statement in relation to a crime which has shocked the conscience of the country is not only unfortunate, but deeply regrettable," he said.

The victim and a male friend were attacked on a bus in south Delhi on 16 December. She died two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore.

Campaigners are calling for tougher rape laws and reforms to the police, who - critics say - often fail to file charges against accused attackers.