Eight Hindu men accused in the gang rape and killing of an 8-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state have pleaded not guilty in their first court appearance.

Monday’s court appearance comes as angry protests over the case have spread across the country.

 

The child’s battered body was found in a forest in January, a week after she went missing while grazing her family’s ponies. Police say the accused men, all Hindus, planned the child’s kidnapping for over a month as part of a plan to scare her Muslim nomadic tribe away from the area.

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Police said the child was sedated and held captive at a Hindu temple where she was repeatedly raped before being strangled and bludgeoned to death.

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