Judge closes India gang-rape trial

AFP-JIJI, AP

An Indian magistrate ruled Monday that the media would not be allowed to attend pretrial hearings or the trial of the five men accused of raping and killing a young student in the Indian capital, a police official said.

Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal upheld the prosecutor’s request that the media be barred from attending the proceedings, according to police spokesman Rajan Bhagat. Hundreds of journalists, lawyers and onlookers had jammed the courtroom where the five were to appear.

“The court has become jam-packed,” magistrate Aggarwal told the court amid noisy protests from lawyers and reporters. “It has become impossible for this court to conduct proceedings in this case.”

A group of lawyers from the Saket District Court complex were denouncing other advocates who have stepped forward to defend the accused, which delayed the start of proceedings in the packed courtroom before noon.

The stuffy room, with space for no more than 30 chairs, was struggling to contain about 150 people by midafternoon, including dozens of lawyers with no connection to the case and local and international journalists.

The five suspects who are between the ages of 19 and 35, had been expected to appear together in court for the first time. The five, who could face the death penalty if convicted, face murder, kidnapping and rape charges in a case that has appalled India and led to soul-searching about the treatment of women.

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

A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.

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 23-year-old medical student died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

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, who all live in Delhi.

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

Her father was quoted by Britain’s Sunday People newspaper over the weekend as saying he wanted “death for all six of them” as well as calling for his daughter’s name to be made public “to give courage to other women.”

But in an interview with Monday’s Hindustan Times, he said he only supported his daughter’s name being used for a new law covering crimes against women.

“I want my daughter to be known as the one who could bring a change in the society and laws, and not as a victim of a barbaric crime,” he told the paper.