Lawyer for two of the accused in the Delhi gang-rape trial says one man wasn't present and the other was hiding under a bus seat

Formal proceedings at a special fast-track court got underway with lawyers arguing over whether the case should be held in a closed court

Delhi

A lawyer representing two of the men accused in the Delhi gang-rape trial has claimed that one of his clients was not present when the crime took place and that the other was hiding under a bus seat and saw nothing.

On the day proceedings in the much-anticipated gang-rape trial formally began, only to be again adjourned, lawyer AP Singh said his clients Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur were not guilty.

"Vinay Sharma was not on the bus," Mr Singh told reporters. "Akshay Thakur was on the bus....He was hiding under the seat because he was afraid. There was a fight."

Mr Singh's comments were made as the five men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old Indian student were brought before a special fast-track court in Delhi. The court was established in the aftermath of last month's attack in order to try and avoid some of the log-jams often present in the Indian judicial system.

It had been anticipated that the charges against the men might be formally framed and that the five may enter a plea. As it was, after clearing the court of the media and members of the public, the five men were brought before the judge, Yogesh Khanna, for a 20-minute hearing that was then adjourned until January 24th.

Earlier, another lawyer, AK Anand, who represents main accused Ram Singh, a bus driver, had argued that the court proceedings should be held in open court. "A court of justice is a public forum," he said. "An open court is a fundamental right of people."

Yet Mr Khanna was unimpressed. After a 45-minute adjournment during which he considered the argument of Mr Anand, he returned to say he was agreeing with the police and prosecution, who have said the case should be held in camera because it involves a rape case.

Indian journalists have already filed a petition with the Delhi high court, challenging an earlier order to keep them out of the proceedings. The matter is due to be heard on February 13.

The lawyer for another of the accused, Mukesh Singh, said to have been driving the bus at the time of the attack, has asked India's Supreme Court to consider moving the case out of Delhi, arguing that the authorities cannot guarantee a fair trial if it is held in the national capital. Lawyer ML Sharma said the higher court had agreed to consider his petition and would hear it on Tuesday.

The young student and her male companion were attacked and assaulted after boarding a private bus in December 16 after a trip to the cinema. The police say that six males assaulted and raped the woman before stripping the pair naked and throwing them from the vehicle. One of the accused is said to be aged 17 and is currently due to be dealt with by a juvenile court.

The case has triggered outcry across India and sparked a national conversation about the nation's attitude towards women. The authorities and police have belatedly sought to assure the public that steps are being taken to improve women's safety.

Few, however, feel convinced. Yesterday, the organisation Avaaz.org claimed it had received more than 1.1m signatures globally calling on the Indian authorities to do more to protect women and to take steps to educate people about women's rights.

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