Five men charged in the gang rape and death of a woman went on trial Tuesday in a fast-track Indian court where they could be sentenced to death.
A sixth suspect in the reported New Delhi gang rape case will be tried separately as he has been declared a juvenile. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of three years at a reform institution.
The trial of the five a New Delhi court is being conducted behind closed doors and its proceedings cannot be made public, NDTV television reported. The defendants pleaded innocent last week. They could be sentenced to death if convicted.
The alleged Dec. 16 rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving private transport bus and the internal injuries she suffered during the attack that ultimately led to her death, deeply shocked and outraged the country.
The incident led to widespread public protests and vigils to ensure safety of women and to the speedy passage of a new law calling for harsher minimum prison sentences, with the death penalty in extreme cases, for those convicted of gang-rape. More stringent measures may be passed in the future.
Besides murder and gang rape, the suspects have been charged with numerous other charges, including kidnapping and destruction of evidence stemming from alleged attempts to wash the vehicle after the rape.
The designation of the sixth accused as a juvenile under existing laws has also raised public outcry with demands to lower the age of juveniles accused in heinous crimes. The Indian Supreme Court has agreed to look into the issue.
NDTV reported New Delhi police, which submitted a 650-page charge sheet in the case, filed an autopsy report from a hospital in Singapore where the woman died Dec. 29.
Among prosecution witnesses will be the male companion of the dead woman, who police say was on the bus and was severely beaten as he tried to protect the woman, the report said.
Police have said both the male companion and the woman were stripped and thrown off the bus during an extremely cold night. They were found on an underpass, where the two lay bleeding profusely, by highway police and taken to a hospital.
The woman hasn't been identified under Indian laws. Before she died, she gave an account of the alleged attack.
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