All eight accused in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district pleaded not guilty of the crime on Monday and asked the district and sessions court handling their trial for a narco analysis test, PTI reported.

The eight are accused of abducting, sedating, repeatedly raping and murdering the girl in January. Their crime had sparked statewide protests – and counter protests by the Hindu Ekta Manch against the arrest of the accused. The chargesheet the Crime Branch filed against eight on April 9 revealed sordid details of the crime.

District and Sessions Judge Sanjay Gupta on Monday asked the Crime Branch to hand over copies of the chargesheet to the defence and postponed the trial of seven accused to April 28. While these seven were produced before the sessions court on Monday, a chief magistrate’s court is hearing the case of the juvenile – the eighth accused in the case. It scheduled the next hearing in his case for April 26.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors to ensure neutrality in the trial, given the communal angle in which the case has been projected, The Economic Times reported.

A lawyer representing one of the accused, constable Tilak Raj, said they were handicapped without copies of the full chargesheet. Ankur Sharma, the counsel for another accused, said they were ready to face narco analysis tests.

Supreme Court hears father’s plea

Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to urgently hear a plea filed by the father of the eight-year-old girl, seeking to have the case shifted from Kathua district to Chandigarh.

After advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the father, told the bench that the “atmosphere is not conducive for a fair trial” and is “highly polarised”, the court issued a notice to the Jammu and Kashmir government, seeking their response to the plea.

Supreme Court hearing against bar associations

The Crime Branch will hand over notices to the Jammu Bar Council and the Kathua Bar Council to appear before the Supreme Court on Thursday, Firstpost reported.

On Friday, the top court had issued a notice to the Bar Council of India and the two bar associations, agreeing to hear a plea against a group of lawyers who had tried to stop the Crime Branch in Kathua from filing the chargesheet in the case.

Meanwhile, lawyers held a protest march in Delhi on Monday against the conduct of advocates of the Jammu Bar Association. The bar association had come out in support of the accused in the rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl and also called for a strike after the police filed a case against them for trying to stop officers from filing the chargesheet.