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Amid chaos, court orders closed session for New Delhi gang rape suspects

By Harmeet Shah Singh and Sumnima Udas, CNN
January 8, 2013 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Magistrate orders that the hearing take place behind closed doors
  • "You will not defend those barbarians!" one lawyer shouts at another in court
  • Five suspects facing charges of murder, rape and kidnapping arrive in court
  • The attack on a woman and her male companion took place on December 16

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- 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.

Read more: New Delhi gang-rape suspects charged with murder, rape, kidnapping

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.

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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.

Read more: Victim's family wants hospital in her village

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.

Companion of rape victim: I begged attackers to stop

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.

Read more: Demonstrations spread in Nepal after rape case

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.

Indian rape debate: Why death penalty is no solution

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.

Read more: The perils of being a woman in India

The interior minister said he was also working with security officials to strengthen laws regarding rape and assault.

The brother of the woman killed in the attack said Sunday that their family would like to see a new hospital named after her to keep her memory alive.

He told CNN by phone from eastern India that the family's home village, located in a underdeveloped region, still doesn't have a well-equipped health care center.

"It will be really good if our village gets a hospital in her name. That will keep her memory alive and serve a cause," said the 20-year-old, who asked not to be named.

Read more: Is this the start of India's 'Arab Spring'?

The rape victim was the eldest of three siblings, with two younger brothers. A physiotherapy student, she was expecting an internship at a hospital in the Indian capital in January.

"After her internship, she would have got a job. And that would have been a great help to our family," said the brother, himself a student.

The family is still struggling with the traumatic loss, he said, and feels that recent protests in several Indian cities in response to the attack are justified.

"You need these protests to bring about a change in laws. And laws should be made so tough that nobody should even think of committing such crimes. Rapists deserve death sentence," he said.

'She could have been me': Action urged after gang rape case

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