5 arrested in India over gang rape of Japanese tourist

Placards against rape is pictured beside a memorial at the protestor's corner in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Dec 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Placards against rape is pictured beside a memorial at the protestor's corner in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Dec 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

KOLKATA (AFP) - Five people have now been arrested for repeatedly gang-raping and extorting money from a young Japanese tourist held hostage for nearly a month in a basement close to a famous Buddhist shrine in India, officials said on Sunday.

The 22-year-old's ordeal began in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, where she was befriended by three local men shortly after arriving on Nov 20, one of the city's top police officers told AFP.

The men, one of whom spoke Japanese, first managed to persuade her to withdraw around 76,000 rupees (S$1,600) dollars in cash before travelling with her to the holy shrine of Bodh Gaya in the neighbouring state of Bihar.

There, she was then handed over to two brothers who locked her in a secluded underground room and repeatedly raped her for nearly a month.

The two brothers, who were working as tourist guides, were arrested on on Friday and taken to Kolkata where they appeared in court late on Saturday. A magistrate ordered that they be remanded in custody until Jan 9 so the victim can take part in an identification parade.

Kolkata joint police commissioner Pallab Kanti Ghosh said the other three people were being held on suspicion of extorting money from the victim and then handing her over to the alleged rapists.

"We have arrested three people who befriended the victim in Kolkata. They have been charged with common conspiracy and intention to kidnap and rape," the commissioner said.

"The men managed to extort 76,000 rupees from her and convinced her to travel to Bodh Gaya with them in their car."

The woman managed to escape from Gaya and reached the Hindu holy city of Varanasi where she met some Japanese tourists who helped her contact the consulate in Kolkata.

Although it was not immediately clear when her ordeal ended, police said she filed the police report in the last week of December.

"(When) we came to know of the incident... we assisted her in registering the complaint with the police," Japan's consul-general in Kolkata, Kazumi Endo, told AFP.

A police source told AFP that the identification parade of the accused would be carried out in the next week before the victim flies home, but did not give an exact date.

Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma conceded that the incident would dent India’s image further. “We are only getting 69 lakh (6.9 million) tourists in a year so that’s a matter of concern for us. (We have) to take care of the security of travellers,” he told CNN-IBN news network.

Ms Samina Khatoon, sister of the men arrested in Gaya, denied the charge of gang rape and demanded a thorough probe into the incident. “We also want a medical examination of the victim. It will prove that my brothers are innocent,” she told AFP by phone.

India has faced intense scrutiny over its efforts to curb violence against women following the fatal gang rape of a medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, which sparked global outcry.

Sex attacks against women from Western countries, including the US and Britain, have received large scale press coverage with the country’s tourism bosses wary of the negative impact of such incidents.

Last January, a 51-year-old Danish tourist was robbed and gang raped at knife-point in Delhi in a case that grabbed national and international headlines.

In 2013, a Swiss cyclist holidaying in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was robbed and raped by five men, all of whom were later sentenced to life terms.

However, crimes against women from Asian countries have received noticeably less attention. This latest case was granted mention only in small news items and was largely ignored by the rolling news networks.

The attack echoes that of a 25-year-old Japanese woman who was gang raped in 2010 while she was on her way to the railway station in Gaya.

Annual statistics released on Friday showed that there had been an increase of more than 31 percent in reported rapes in Delhi in the last 12 months.

Delhi’s police commissioner said the figures did not necessarily indicate that sex attacks were increasing but rather that women were now more willing to make reports.