Bangladesh Sentences 16 to Death for Killing Teenager in Harassment Case

October 24, 2019 Updated: October 24, 2019

The principal of a religious school in Bangladesh is among 16 people sentenced to death on Oct. 24 for the murder of a teenage girl. Nusrat Jahan had refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said.

The perpetrators poured kerosene over Jahan, 18, in April 2019. They set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in the southeastern district of Feni. The police charge-sheet stated that the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.

“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict.

He said the defense lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide.

Defense lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said all the convicts would challenge the verdict in the High Court.

Jahan’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said.

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Bangladeshi women hold placards and photographs of schoolgirl Nusrat Jahan Rafi at a protest in Dhaka on April 12, 2019. (Sazzad Hossain/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has met with her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

Two female classmates and two local leaders of her party were among those convicted.

After the murder, the government instructed some 27,000 educational institutions to form committees to prevent sexual assaults.

“I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict.

Jahan’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals.

“We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rape cases in recent months, with 217 women and children raped in September, the highest in any single month since 2010, according to a report published by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.

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Accused people are taken out of the court premises after they were given death sentences in a murder case in Feni, Bangladesh on Oct. 24, 2019. (Stringer/Reuters)

Many more cases go unreported because women fear being stigmatized. Rights activists attribute the increasing number of rapes to a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity, moral decadence, and people of influence protecting suspected rapists for political reasons.

Even when survivors file a complaint, a prosecution is very rare and takes years to conclude.

“This verdict has set an example. It shows that with utmost sincerity, we can ensure justice within our existing system,” said the group’s head, Ayesha Khanam.

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