India court set to pass first verdict in gang-rape case

In this photograph taken on December 22, 2012, An Indian demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest in front of the Government Secretariat and Presidential Palace in New Delhi, calling for better safety for women following the rape of a student in
In this photograph taken on December 22, 2012, An Indian demonstrator holds up a sign during a protest in front of the Government Secretariat and Presidential Palace in New Delhi, calling for better safety for women following the rape of a student in the Indian capital. An Indian court is set on Thursday to deliver the first verdict in a case of gang-rape and murder which shocked the nation and sparked mass protests. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian court is set on Thursday to deliver the first verdict in a case of gang-rape and murder which shocked the nation and sparked mass protests.

A juvenile court will pass judgement on the youngest suspect, who was 17 at the time of the horrific assault on the 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in the capital.

Principal Magistrate Geetanjli Goel had been expected to announce the verdict on July 11, but deferred her ruling until Thursday.

The victim's family had called for the teenager to be tried as an adult, alongside five men initially arrested over the assault on Dec 16.

The adults and the juvenile were charged with murder, rape, kidnap, robbery and conspiracy.

If found guilty, the teenager can be sent to a correctional facility for a maximum three-year term, which includes the time he has already spent in custody. The adult defendants could face death if convicted in a separate hearing.

The physiotherapy student was beaten, raped and tortured with an iron rod by six people, after getting onto the bus with a friend as they made their way home from the cinema.

She died two weeks later from internal injuries inflicted during the horrific attack, a crime that brought simmering anger about endemic sex crime in India to the boil.

The assault sparked several weeks of often violent protests, with police eventually taking action to empty the heart of the city of thousands of angry demonstrators.

New Delhi's outgoing police chief Neeraj Kumar has defended his use of water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

"It was a leaderless crowd. Lumpen elements had begun to hijack the entire campaign. So we had to take action... we had no option," Mr Kumar told the Press Trust of India.

The trial of four adults continues in a separate court and is expected to wrap up in the next few months.

A fifth adult, alleged ringleader Ram Singh, died in jail in an apparent suicide in March.

India's legal system has faced intense scrutiny over its efforts to curb violence against women following the Delhi gang rape and other cases.

A court in central India last week sentenced six men to life imprisonment for the gang-rape and robbery of a 39-year-old Swiss woman cyclist holidaying in the country.