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Media banned amid chaos at Indian gang-rape trial

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi

A blurred shuffle of bodies behind a line of policemen marked the arrival and departure of five men accused of the rape and murder of an Indian student when they were brought to court.

The men were bustled into the courtroom in Delhi after a judge took the controversial decision that the hearing had to be held in private after earlier, chaotic scenes were deemed to have disrupted proceedings.

Barely 30 minutes later, the accused were led out of the court and taken back to the city's Tihar jail, having been given a list of the more than 10 charges they face.

"The case has been adjourned until January 10. They have been given a copy of the charge sheet," metropolitan magistrate Namrita Aggarwal told reporters .

Earlier, the judge had barred the media and members of the public after raucous scenes that had seen different lawyers arguing noisily between themselves over whether or not the five men deserved to receive a legal defence.

She said concerns had also been raised by the prosecutor about the safety of the five accused.

"An unprecedented situation arises when members of (the) Bar and public persons not connected with the case have started converging (on) the courtroom," the judge said in a statement.

She added: "It has become impossible to proceed in the case. I am passing (an) order for in-camera proceeding. It shall not be lawful to print and publish any article in the media without court permission."

The savage attack on the medical student and her male friend on December 16, and her death in a hospital in Singapore, has gripped India and sparked a rare debate about the country's attitudes towards women.

In the aftermath, the authorities have established a series of fast-track courts to deal with rapes, the first of which will hear the trial of the five men: Pawan Gupta (19) a fruit vendor; Vinay Sharma (20) a fitness trainer; 33-year-old bus driver Ram Singh; his brother Mukesh (26); and Akshay Singh (24), a bus washer.

A previous hearing was told that Mr Gupta and Mr Sharma have declined to seek the services of legal-aid counsel and instead expressed their willingness to act as witnesses or "approvers", apparently in an effort to escape the death penalty.

A sixth male accused of involvement in the attack is said to be aged 17 and is due to be dealt with by a juvenile court.

Such has been the reaction to the case that lawyers from the Bar association in the Saket neighbourhood of Delhi where the case is being heard have announced none of their members will represent the accused.

There will be intense pressure on the authorities to ensure the trial proceeds as smoothly and as transparently as possible.

After the judge announced she was holding the hearing in camera, appeals against the decision were filed with another court. (© Independent News Service)

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