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Death penalty for 16 who set student on fire

Source BBC

A Bangladesh court has sentenced 16 people to death for the murder of a student set on fire after accusing her teacher of sexual harassment.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, died in April in Feni, a small town some 160km (100 miles) outside the capital Dhaka.

The headteacher Nusrat had accused of harassment and at least two classmates were among those convicted.

Her murder shocked the country and led to a series of protests demanding justice for Nusrat.

The trial has been one of the quickest in a country where such cases usually take years to conclude. Prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters it proved “that nobody will get away with murder in Bangladesh”.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi

What happened to Nusrat?

Nusrat was lured to her school’s rooftop on 6 April this year, 11 days after she reported the headmaster, Siraj Ud Doula, to police for repeatedly touching her inappropriately.

She was then surrounded by four or five people wearing burqas, pressuring her to withdraw her complaint.

When she refused, they set her on fire.

According to police, they had hoped to make it look like a suicide. Instead, she was rescued.

But knowing she was badly hurt, she gave a statement which her brother filmed on his phone.

“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she says, naming some of her attackers.

Nusrat, who had sustained burns to 80% of her body, died four days later, on 10 April.

How widespread is sexual abuse in Bangladesh?

Sexual harassment is thought to be relatively commonplace in Bangladesh: a recent report by charity ActionAid earlier this year found 80% of women working in Bangladesh’s garment industry have either seen or experienced sexual violence at work.

But speaking out like Nusrat is still uncommon as reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks.

Different organization held a protest rally against the murder of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a madrasa girl from Feni who was burnt in reprisal after sexual abuse charges against the principal, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 12, 2019

Nusrat was particularly unusual because she went to the police. They filmed her statement on a mobile phone – which was later leaked to the media.

Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets to demand the release of the headmaster, leading her family to fear for her safety.

How did the public react to Nusrat’s murder?

The case sparked mass protests in Bangladesh and shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of victims of sexual assault and harassment in the country.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly pledged that “none of the culprits will be spared from legal action”.

Police, who had initially dismissed the sexual harassment, laid charges against 16 accused in May. Prosecutors were calling for the death penalty.

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