India sets 2012 gang rape convicts' executions for Jan. 22

NEW DELHI (AP) — A death warrant was issued Tuesday for the four men convicted in the 2012 gang rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus that galvanized protests across India and brought global attention to the country's sexual violence epidemic.

A New Delhi court scheduled the hangings for Jan. 22, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The warrant has been anticipated since India’s Supreme Court rejected one of the men's final review pleas last month. India's president can still intercede, but that is not expected to happen.

The victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student whom Indian media dubbed “Nirbhaya,” or “Fearless,” because Indian law prohibits rape victims from being identified, was heading home with a male friend from a movie theater when six men lured them onto a bus. With no one else in sight, they beat the man with a metal bar, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict massive internal injuries to her.

The pair were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later.

The assailants were tried relatively quickly in a country where sexual assault cases often languish for years. Four defendants were sentenced to death. Another hanged himself in prison before his trial began, though his family insists he was killed. The sixth assailant was a minor at the time of the December 2012 attack and was sentenced to three years in a reform home.

Swati Maliwal, the chair of the Delhi Commission for Women, applauded Tuesday's court announcement on Twitter.

“I salute her mother who has fought for so long," she tweeted. “It is a victory for all the fearless people of this country. This is the time to punish every rapist in the country so that a strong message is sent out.”

The scheduled executions come amid a revived debate over sexual violence in India after several headline-grabbing cases in recent months. A woman in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was doused with gasoline and set on fire by five men — including two who were out on bail after she had accused them of gang rape — on her way to attend a court hearing in her case. She died last month at a hospital in New Delhi.

In late November, the burned body of a 27-year-old veterinarian was found near the city of Hyderabad in southern India. Police later fatally shot four men being held on suspicion of raping and killing the woman after investigators took them to the crime scene, drawing praise from people frustrated by the pace of the 2012 New Delhi case and condemnation from those who decried it as extrajudicial.