Developing

India Gang Rape Accused Plead Not Guilty

Five men accused of the brutal murder and gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student on a Delhi bus have denied the allegations.

They pleaded not guilty after being indicted on 13 charges in a special fast-track court in the capital.

The defendants are due back in court on February 5, when the prosecution will call three witnesses to the formal start of the trial.

The accused, aged between 19 and 35 and who have been named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta, could face the death penalty if convicted.

They reportedly filed into the courtroom with their faces concealed with scarves amid heavy security.

A sixth 17-year-old suspect will be tried separately in a juvenile court where the maximum sentence is three years in a reform facility.

The victim was repeatedly raped and assaulted with a metal bar during the attack on December 16.

Her male companion was beaten up, before they were both thrown off a moving bus and dumped naked on the roadside.

The young woman died from her internal injuries two weeks later in a hospital in Singapore.

Her death has triggered nationwide protests about violence against women, and sparked debate about their treatment in India and the inability of law enforcement agencies to protect them.

Saturday's court hearing comes a day after India's cabinet backed harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty.

The changes are expected to become law as early as this weekend, but will also need to be ratified by parliament at a later date.

Law minister Ashwani Kumar said: "We have taken swift action and hope these steps will make women feel safer in the country."

Under the current law, a rapist faces a prison term of between seven and 10 years.

The changes would see the minimum sentence for gang rape, rape of a minor, rape by a police officer or a person in authority, double - and extended to life without parole.

New offences such as voyeurism and stalking are also set to be introduced.