Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Bangladesh charges 16 for burning girl alive

Sixteen people, including the headmaster of an Islamic school, charged over last month's murder of a 19-year-old girl.

    A study conducted by a women's rights group found that about 950 women were raped in Bangladesh last year [Monirul Alam/EPA]
    A study conducted by a women's rights group found that about 950 women were raped in Bangladesh last year [Monirul Alam/EPA]

    Bangladesh police on Wednesday charged 16 people over the murder of teenager Nusrat Jahan Rafi, and said they would seek the death penalty over the case that shocked the South Asian nation.

    Last month's killing of the 19-year-old girl in the Feni district sparked protests across the country, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promising to prosecute all those involved.

    An Islamic school headmaster, who Rafi had accused of sexual harassment just weeks before her death, was among those charged over her death.

    "I lost my only daughter. She was an innocent girl who raised her voice against injustice and died brutally because of that. Now I want justice for her," AKM Musa Manik, Rafi's father, told Al Jazeera.

    Rafi's brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, who is acting as the plaintiff in the case, told Al Jazeera that the case should be fast tracked.

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    "In Bangladesh, legal tangles delay many cases. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said no one involved in the murder will be spared. So I hope it will be a fast-track trial and we will get justice," he said.

    Rafi was lured to the rooftop of the school she attended where her attackers asked her to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint filed with police against the head teacher.

    When she refused, she was doused in kerosene and set on fire. She died five days later. Her death triggered outraged and highlighted an alarming rise in sexual harassment cases in the country.

    "They are charged under the women and children repression law and we'll recommend the death penalty for all 16 accused," Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) lead investigator Mohammad Iqbal told AFP news agency.

    Safety of women

    Iqbal said Siraj Ud Doula, principal of the Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa where Rafi was a student, had ordered the murder from jail.

    I lost my only daughter. She was an innocent girl who raised her voice against injustice and died brutally because of that

    AKM Musa Manik, Rafi's father

    Rafi had gone to police in late March to report the alleged sexual harassment against the teacher, and a leaked video shows the local police station chief registering her complaint but dismissing it as "not a big deal".

    Iqbal said at least five people, including three of Rafi's classmates, had tied her up with a scarf before setting her on fire. The plan was to pass the incident off as a case of suicide.

    Rafi suffered burns to 80 percent of her body and died in hospital on April 10. But she recorded a video before her death, repeating her allegations against the principal.

    Shah Alam, a PBI member and investigative officer in the case who submitted the charges, said that Nusrat was killed for taking a stand against the misconduct of the principal and others.

    Siraj has been made the prime accused.

    The head of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women's rights organisation, said more needed to be done to ensure the safety of women in Bangladesh.

    A study conducted by the group found that about 950 women were raped in Bangladesh last year.

    "Justice has to be ensured," said the group's general secretary Maleka Banu.

    "(But) just ensuring that the Nusrat case is taken care of is not enough. We need to do a lot more to make the situation better for Bangladeshi women."

    Additional reporting by Faisal Mahmud from Dhaka

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies