Five men accused of raping 23-year-old student in a bus face murder charges as judge bars media from attending trial.

Five men accused of the gang rape and murder of an Indian student have appeared in a New Delhi court to hear charges against them.

Following shouting and angry scenes in the packed court on Monday, the magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, closed the hearing to the media and the public. The court was cleared and police were posted at its doors before the accused were brought in.

“Keeping in view the sensitivity of this case that has risen, the proceedings including the inquiry and trial are to be held in camera,” Aggarwal said.

She said the next hearing would be on Thursday.

Two of the defendants had been offering evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence, public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said.

He said he was seeking the death sentence given the “heinous” crime.

“The five accused persons deserve not less than the death penalty,” he said, echoing public sentiment and calls from the victim’s family.

Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Delhi, said: “The prosecutors say they have a very, very tight case against them. People are watching closely to see what happens to those accused.”

The next hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

The five, including a 17-year-old who will go to a juvenile court, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi, inflicting fatal injuries on her.  She died two weeks later on December 28 in a Singapore hospital.

Forensic evidence

Television images showed the blue police van believed to be transporting the suspects from Tihar jail as it arrived at the court gate prior to the hearing.

The court appearance comes days after police said they discovered forensic evidence to link them to the killing.

The defendants – named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vijay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta – face charges of kidnap, robbery and conspiracy besides murder.

The attack on December 16 sparked protests in India and soul-searching about levels of violence against women.

The government, sensitive to criticism that a sluggish justice system often compounds the agony of victims, has pledged to fast-track the case against the defendants. They all live in Delhi.

Police have pledged “maximum security” during the hearing at the magistrates’ 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.

As prosecution of the suspects got under way, legal experts called for an overhaul of the country’s judicial system.

Experts also said the court in Delhi’s Saket district was likely to transfer the case to a higher court during Monday’s hearing.

‘Incompetent’ force

Madhu Kishwar, an academic and founder of the Manushi human rights organisation, told Al Jazeera “police and judicial reforms” were needed to deal with sexual violence against women.

She said “tampering with this or that clause in rape law will achieve next to nothing if the police force remains as incompetent and as corrupt as it is”.

The student, whose death united the nation in mourning, remains unidentified as Indian rape law forbids naming of victims of sexual violence.

She had spent the evening at a cinema with her boyfriend on the night of the attack. After failing to flag down an autorickshaw, she and the boyfriend were tricked to board a schoolbus they thought would take them home.

The attack began once they got on the bus, with assailants taking turns raping the student. The attackers are said to have used an iron bar to sexually assault the student, who was thrown off the moving bus along with her companion after the rape.

Source: Aljazeera

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