Five men charged with the gang-rape and murder of an Indian student last month have appeared at a New Delhi court. The case has sparked nationwide protest about alleged police inadequacies and social apathy.
The five accused appeared at the Saket district court in southern Delhi on Monday morning, having arrived amid a heavy police presence and widespread calls that they be hanged.
Television footage showed a blue police van carrying the suspects arrive at the court from Tihar jail.
The five, aged between 19 and 35, were presented with printed copies of their charges, which include abduction, gang-rape and murder.
The men are accused of raping a physiotherapy student during an hour-long bus journey on December 16 and violating her with an iron bar before throwing her and her boyfriend out of the vehicle. The 23-year-old woman died two weeks later after Indian authorities transferred her to a Singapore hospital.
Two Supreme Court lawyers who offered their services to the accused during the morning proceedings were booed by other advocates. Members of the professional lawyers' bar association in the Saket district had said they would not represent any of the defendants.
Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal subquently ordered that the suspects' first appearance take place behind closed doors on Thursday.
"The court has become jam-packed," she said. "It has become impossible for this court to conduct proceedings in this case."
Aggarwal was expected to transfer the case to a special fast-track court set up specifically last week to deal with crimes against women.
Fears over lack of representation
Last month's attack sparked weeks of protests across India, with both the government and police criticized for perceived failures.
However, the lack of representation for the men has led to speculation that, if the men are found guilty, the trial could be appealed at a later date for being unfair.
Late last week, prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said that DNA evidence linked the blood of the victim with blood stain's found on the clothes of the accused. Mohan told the Reuters news agency that he was seeking the death penalty, given the "heinous" nature of the crime.
A sixth suspect, aged 17 years, is expected to be tried in a juvenile court. The maximum sentence he could face would be three years three years in a reform facility. The Indian government is aiming to lower the age at which teenagers can be tried as adults in response to anger that the potential sentence is not sufficient.
rc/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)