Five adults were ordered Thursday to stand trial in a fast-track court on charges of gang-raping and murdering a student on a bus in New Delhi, one of their defence lawyers said.
A magistrate sitting at a district court in the Saket area of southern Delhi committed the five defendants to a more senior sessions court which is authorised to handle such case and which will begin its hearings next Monday.
"The magistrate has committed the case to the sessions court which is fast-track," Sadashiv Gupta, the lawyer for fruit-seller Pawan Kumar, told reporters outside the court.
The court would hold its first hearing on the case on January 21, Gupta added.
Kumar and four other adults are all accused of murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping in connection with the attack on the 23-year-old medical student on December 16.
The case against a sixth defendant, who says he is 17, is being heard separately by a juvenile court.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died 13 days later in a Singapore hospital from intestinal injuries sustained during the assault in which she was also violated with a rusting iron bar.
A male companion, with whom she had spent the evening at the cinema, was also badly injured in the attack which ended when the pair were thrown off the bus.
The gang-rape triggered mass protests across India and shone the spotlight on the shocking levels of sexual violence against women.
Prosecutors say they have DNA evidence, including blood stains, linking the six defendants to the killing as well as a host of witnesses.
The defendants' lawyers have said that their clients were beaten by police and forced into confessing.
The government, stunned by the mass protests over the case and criticism of India's notoriously sluggish justice system, has promised that the case will be dealt with swiftly.
If convicted, the adult defendants could be sentenced to death and many of the protesters who rallied in the aftermath of the attack demanded that all rapists be hanged.
Speaking before the magistrate moved the case, another of the defence team said his client had been badly beaten up in jail by fellow prisoners.
A.P. Singh told reporters that his client Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor, was in agony when he appeared before the district court on Thursday.
"Vinay Sharma was badly tortured in jail by other inmates who pounced on him. He was not in a position to stand up in court because he was in great pain," Singh said.
"It is sad the jail authorities cannot provide security to them," he added.
The prosecution had requested the five adult defendants to be handcuffed while in custody on the grounds that they were dangerous, but defence lawyer Gupta said the court had rejected such a move.
"The handcuffing of the suspects has been rejected as per our application opposing handcuffing," he said outside the court.
A wide ranging gagging order has been imposed on reporting of proceedings inside the courtroom.
It is not yet known whether those restrictions will remain in place throughout the trial.
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