Agence France-Presse

Alleged ringleader of India gang rapists found dead in Delhi prison cell

White cloth bags emblazoned with slogans denouncing rape are seen hung from mannequins at a fashion store in Mumbai on March 8, 2013. International Women's Day is marked on March 8 every year.

NEW DELHI. India — The alleged ringleader of the gang accused of raping and murdering a young woman in Delhi last year has reportedly committed suicide in prison.

Officials from Delhi's Tihar Jail said Ram Singh, the driver of the bus in which the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was allegedly beaten and gang raped, hanged himself.

Singh was found dead at Tihar just after 5 a.m. and used his own clothes to hang himself, the Associated Press reported, citing jail officials.

But GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in New Delhi, Jason Overdorf, said latest reports suggest that jail officials may have ignored a psychiatric evaluation suggesting that Singh suffered from depression — though a jail official said he was on "suicide watch." Meanwhile, the home minister called the incident a "major lapse in security" even as he refused to speculate as to whether Singh's death was indeed due to suicide.

"Regardless of whether Singh was killed or committed suicide, his death reflects poorly on the state of India's prison system — where human rights activists allege torture and abuse are common and other rules are routinely flouted," Overdorf said. "Last month, for instance, a politician under trial for corruption was so confident in avoiding punishment he addressed a campaign rally on an illegal cell phone that had been smuggled into Tihar."

Singh's lawyer told the AP that his client was killed. "What do you mean killed himself? He has been killed in prison," he said.

The Wall Street Journal cited another lawyer, V.K. Anand, as saying that jailed Singh had "looked cheerful since he met his 5-year-old son in the court" last Friday.

"He was happy with the way the trial was proceeding."

Singh, 35 — and, according to the Wall Street Journal, a regular driver of one of thousands of private buses operating in the capital — was one of five men on trial for murder over the alleged Dec. 13 attack.

The Delhi gang rape case sparked national outrage in India and attracted widespread international attention.

Australia's Fairfax media reported that Singh's brother Mukesh, also a suspect being held in Tihar, had been informed of his death.

Some reports have suggested that all five men, each of whom face the death penalty, are on suicide watch. A sixth accused is being tried separately as a juvenile.

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The alleged gang rape brought protesters onto the streets of New Delhi and other Indian cities, prompting the government to strengthen laws to deter crimes against women.

The father of the rape victim told the WSJ:

"We are feeling a bit relieved with this development. But we really don't know what more to say right now."

Reuters quoted her brother, 20, as saying:

"I'm not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged ... publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence."

Another hearing in the trial is scheduled for Monday.

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