Amid heated confrontations between lawyers, a New Delhi court on Monday ordered the appearance of five men accused in the shocking rape and killing of an Indian woman last month to take place behind closed doors.
The horrific attack on the 23-year-old woman in New Delhi on December 16 has prompted angry protests over the country's treatment of women and handling of sexual attacks. It also stirred worldwide outrage.
The suspects arrived Monday at the Metropolitan Magistrates' Court in the southern New Delhi district of Saket amid a tense atmosphere, tight security and a heavy news media presence. The men were there to hear the charges against them.
But tempers flared inside the packed courtroom before the suspects had even appeared, with some lawyers loudly criticizing the offer by a couple of their colleagues to represent the suspects.
"You will not defend those barbarians!" shouted one young lawyer, pointing his finger at Manohar Lal Sharma, one of those willing to represent the accused men. The local bar association last week vowed not to represent any of the suspects because of the nature of the crime they are accused of committing.
The magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, asked everyone not connected with the case to leave the courtroom so she could call the suspects in. When none of them budged, she walked out of the room.
She returned a while later and ordered that the hearing take place behind closed doors. She also forbade the news media from publishing proceedings related to the case without the court's permission, citing concerns about the suspects' safety.
The magistrates' court was expected to transfer the case to a so-called "fast-track" court, several of which have been set up to expedite cases in a justice system bogged down by red tape.
Charges of murder, rape and kidnapping were filed against five of the accused men on Thursday. If convicted, they could receive the death penalty.
A juvenile court will take up the matter of determining the age of a sixth suspect in the attack, who claims to be 17 and therefore not old enough to be tried as an adult, CNN affiliate IBN reported.
The female victim of the attack, whose name has not been released, died late last month in a Singapore hospital, where she received treatment after being airlifted from New Delhi.
The men are accused of assaulting her and her male companion on a bus in the Indian capital on December 16, robbing them of their belongings before dumping them at the side of a road.
The 28-year-old male victim, who survived with a broken leg, said in an interview last week with the news agency Agence France-Presse that he and his friend had boarded the private bus to return home after seeing a movie.
But the driver of the bus made lewd remarks and five other men on board taunted the couple and locked the doors, the man said.
He said that he was beaten with a stick while the men raped his friend and hit her in the worst possible ways in the most private parts of her body. The driver used an iron bar in the attack, he told the news agency.
In a separate interview with the news agency Reuters, the man said their abductors drove the couple throughout the city for about two hours before dropping them below an overpass; he was unable to stand and had no clothes.
He said that they received no help "for nearly 20 or 25 minutes," and that when three police vehicles finally did show up, the officers argued among themselves about which police precinct had jurisdiction.
The case appears to have prompted changes in New Delhi law enforcement.
India's interior minister has ordered the city's police stations to increase the number of women officers to facilitate the handling of complaints from women.
Interior Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said last week that each police station in Delhi should have 10 women constables and two women subinspectors.