New Delhi -
The trial of five men accused in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi was to begin on Tuesday, after the December crime sparked nationwide protests and an international outcry.
A fast-track court headed by Judge Yogesh Khanna was to hear the prosecution open its case by calling four witnesses, defence lawyers said.
“The witnesses in the closed hearing include the male friend of the victim who was with her at the time of the alleged attack,” said one of the lawyers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The other witnesses are those who spotted the victim on the roadside and alerted the police.”
All the accused pleaded not guilty in a pre-trial hearing on Saturday to the charges, which include murder, gang rape, abduction, destroying evidence and criminal conspiracy.
They face the death penalty if convicted of murder. A sixth suspect, aged 17-and-a-half, was to be tried in a juvenile court, and faced a maximum sentence of three years at a correction home.
The young woman was beaten with an iron rod and raped in a moving bus in the Indian capital on December 16. She died in a hospital in Singapore of multiple organ failure two weeks later.
The attack triggered weeks of protests by thousands of people in New Delhi and other Indian cities demanding improved safety for women.
At the weekend, the government approved tougher laws for rape and sexual crimes, including the death penalty for rapists where the victim dies from the assault. - Sapa-dpa