NEW DELHI: Five men accused of the gang rape and murder of an Indian student appeared in court on Monday to hear charges against them, after two of them offered evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence in the case that has led to a global outcry.
The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi. She died two weeks later on Dec. 28 in a Singapore hospital.
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.
Two of the accused, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, moved an application on Saturday requesting they be made "approvers", or informers against the other accused, a public prosecutor in the case, Rajiv Mohan, told Reuters.
The five, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are also charged with kidnap, robbery and conspiracy over the attack on December 16 that sparked protests in India and soul-searching about levels of violence against 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 are aged between 17 and 35. They all live in Delhi.
A spokesman for Tihar jail, where the group have been held since their arrest three weeks ago, said they would be produced before the court in the mid-morning.
“We are going to produce the accused between 10:30 am (0500 GMT) and 11:00 am and we have made all the preparations,” Sunil Gupta told AFP.
“Security has been beefed up inside the court premises,” he added.
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.
Legal experts say the court in the Saket district of the capital would likely transfer the case to a higher court during Monday’s hearing.
“The court will ask them if they have lawyers and then it will appoint an Amicus Curiae (lawyer) to represent them and supply copies of the chargesheet to the accused,” said Vishwender Verma, a senior advocate at Delhi High Court.
“The case will then be committed to a sessions court as a magistrates’ court cannot try rape and murder cases.”
The student, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had spent the evening at a cinema with her boyfriend on the night of the attack. After failing to flag down an autorickshaw, they were lured onto a schoolbus they thought would take them home.
Instead, a gang are alleged to have taken it in turns to rape the young woman as well as sexually assault her with an iron bar that they also used to attack her companion. The pair were then thrown out of the moving vehicle.
Outlining their case before the same court in Saket on Saturday, prosecutors said there was DNA evidence to tie the defendants to the crime scene.
“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.
Her father was quoted by Britain’s Sunday People newspaper at the weekend as saying he wanted “death for all six of them” as well 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.
Rape cases are usually held behind closed doors in India and it will be up to the court to decide what the media will be allowed to report.
The police have issued an advisory saying “it shall not be lawful for any person to print or publish any matter in relation to such proceedings” unless they receive permission from the court.