India Gang Rape: Five Appear In Delhi Court

An Indian court hearing the case of five men accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old student was cleared as chaotic scenes forced the hearing to be held behind closed doors.

The suspects were being presented for the first time since the attack which took place on a bus on December 16, sparking protests in India and abroad about violence against women.

But the court was closed after noisy protests from lawyers objecting to the suspects being given defence counsels, and a crush of local and foreign journalists straining to hear proceedings in the tiny room.

"People who have assembled and are present in the court not connected with the case have been asked to wait outside," magistrate Namrita Aggarwal said in a written order to reporters.

"It has become completely impossible for the courtroom proceedings to proceed."

The five men, aged 19 to 35 and mostly residents of Delhi slums, were later produced before the magistrate, police officers said outside the courtroom.

After the hearing, which lasted around 45 minutes, the case was referred to a fast-track court.

Earlier, several blue Delhi Police buses believed to be holding the men were seen driving into the Saket court complex in south Delhi.

The accused, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are charged with kidnap, robbery and conspiracy over the attack. A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.

Though gang rapes are commonplace in India, the case has touched a nerve, leading to three weeks of sweeping introspection on India's attitudes to women, its often insensitive police force and dysfunctional justice system.

It normally takes months for the prosecution to assemble such a case, but the legal proceedings are getting under way barely a week after the victim died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

She had been out to watch a film with her boyfriend when they were lured onto a bus where the gang are accused of repeatedly raping and violating her with an iron bar, causing horrific internal damage.

The defendants have been named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta.

Police pledged "maximum security" during the hearing at the court amid fears for the defendants' safety. A man was arrested last week as he allegedly tried to plant a crude bomb near the home of one of the men.

In the order clearing the court room on Monday, the magistrate said there was "apprehension" about the safety of the accused.

Outlining their case on Saturday, prosecutors said there was DNA evidence to tie the defendants to the crime scene, as well as testimony from the boyfriend who witnessed the assault.

"The blood of the victim tallied with the stains found on the clothes of the accused," said Rajiv Mohan, part of the prosecution team.

There have been widespread calls for the attackers to be hanged, including from the victim's family.

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