The magistrate in India's capital hearing the case of five of the six suspects in a brutal gang rape cleared the packed courtroom Monday, and said the proceedings will be closed to the public.
He announced the closure shortly after the suspects arrived at a fast-track court Monday morning in New Delhi. The hearing is a procedural step before a trial date is set.
Indian authorities have charged the men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges in the December 16 attack. Officials say they will push for the death penalty, if the men are convicted.
Two of the accused, in an effort to receive lighter sentences, have told the court that they want to become witnesses for the prosecution.
A sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.
India set up the fast-track court to try the men accused of the brutal gang-rape. It is one of five fast-track courts being established in New Delhi, known by some as the “rape capital” of India. The courts will hear cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women in an effort to bypass India's overwhelmed court system, where cases can often take many years to be resolved.
Lawyers in the courthouse on Monday staged a protest, denouncing the lawyers who have stepped forward to defend the accused.
The six suspects are accused of beating the woman and a male friend after luring them onto a bus. They were both beaten with a rod. The woman was raped and a rod was used in the rape.
The unidentified woman died on December 29 in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment.
The woman's rape and death have sparked outrage across the country. Protesters have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the ways India treats women.