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HindustanTimes Sat,02 Aug 2014

'Suspects deny harassing British tourist in Agra'

AFP  Agra, March 20, 2013
First Published: 16:30 IST(20/3/2013) | Last Updated: 17:27 IST(20/3/2013)

The two men accused of harassing a British tourist, who jumped off her hotel balcony fearing a sex attack, appeared in a court on Wednesday with their lawyer saying they denied the charges.

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The manager of the three-star Hotel Agra Mahal, Sachin Chauhan, and another member of the staff were produced before the local magistrate in Agra and were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.

Prakash Narayan Sharma, lawyer for the hotel manager, said his client would enter a "not guilty" plea before the court on Thursday and apply for bail.

The woman was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday with minor leg injuries sustained as she fled the hotel after the men allegedly tried to force their way into her room in the middle of the night.

Sharma said his client was being framed and that the woman had cooked up the story.

"The woman herself asked for a wake-up call as she had to catch an early morning train to Jaipur. The manager, along with the hotel's security guard, went to the room and knocked on the door.

"When they did not get any response, they opened the room with the hotel key. The woman then, for reasons best known to her, jumped off from the balcony," he informed.

He also claimed it was a conspiracy concocted by tourism authorities in New Delhi to tarnish the image of Agra, which is home to the Taj Mahal and is a three-hour drive from the capital.

The incident came just days after a Swiss cyclist was allegedly gang-raped in Madhya Pradesh by a group of villagers late Friday, while on a cycling trip with her husband that was meant to include a stopover in Agra.

That attack re-focused attention on the country's poor record on safety for women, after thousands took to the streets in nationwide protests following the fatal gang-rape of an Indian student on a bus in New Delhi in December.

The British woman was due to return home after recording her statement in court.

"She has spoken to her family in the UK and her mother will be coming here to take her back home," deputy superintendent of Agra police Swaranjeet said.

"The girl is much better, she is safe. She is still here."

The woman, in her early 30s, has told police the hotel manager had been pestering her with offers of a massage and then tried to force his way into her room at 04:00am on Tuesday morning.

"I was too scared to leave my room as he was waiting outside. I was kicking the door and shouting for help but no one came," the woman was quoted as saying in a police statement, according to Britain's The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"I shouted at them to stop harassing me but it continued," she said.

Lawyer Sharma said her allegations were baseless since the hotel did not have a licence to offer massage services.

Meanwhile, the Indian tourism ministry moved swiftly to suspend the three-star rating of the hotel, while police in Agra sealed the premises.

India's lower house of Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday that would toughen sentences for sex offenders and for carrying out crimes such as stalking, groping and voyeurism.


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