Feni, Bangladesh – A court in Bangladesh will deliver a judgement nearly six months after it charged at least 16 people for the murder of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a student of an Islamic seminary who was burned to death after she accused a teacher of sexual harassment.
The death of 19-year-old Rafi in April this year sparked protests across the South Asian nation, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promising to fast-track the case.
Public Prosecutor in Feni district, Hafez Ahmed, told Al Jazeera that 12 of the 16 charge-sheeted accused gave confessional statements under section 164 of the penal code.
Ahmed said they were successfully able to prove that the accused are involved in the killing by providing many documents, including Rafi’s dying statement, different audiovisual records, and telephonic conversations among the accused.
Rafi’s brother Mahmudul Hasan Noman, the plaintiff in the case, told Al Jazeera that the allegations of her sister’s brutal murder have been proved before the court during the trial proceedings.
“I hope that the convicts receive maximum punishment in the case as they have already given confessional statement,” he added.
Rafi’s father AKM Musa Manik told Al Jazeera that he hoped to get justice. “The whole country had seen what happened to my daughter. She was an innocent girl and was brutally murdered for her strong stance against a wrongdoing.”
Rafi had filed a sexual harassment complaint with police against the headteacher, who along with his accomplice, set her on fire after she refused to withdraw the complaint.
She recorded a video testimony against the teacher before she died – an incident that shocked the nation.
The defendant’s lawyer Advocate Mahfuzul Haque however, expressed his hope saying that his clients would be acquitted in the case.
Haque told Al Jazeera that there were many inconsistencies in the arguments from the state’s side and that they presented weak witnesses. “If the judgment is fair, then my clients will be acquitted.”
Sixteen people, split into five groups, took part in the brutal killing of Rafi after hatching the murder plot for three days, Banaj Kumar Majumder, chief of the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) – the main investigating agency of the murder – told Al Jazeera.
Majumder said the mastermind, Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa principal Siraj Ud Doula gave instructions from jail while his accomplices, including two local ruling Awami League party leaders and several seminary students, executed the plot on April 6.
On the fateful day, Rafi entered her school to take an exam but one of her classmates named Poppy lured her to the rooftop where five others including three of Rafi’s classmates, had bound her hands and feet with a scarf before setting her on fire.
The PBI chief said the initial plan of the killers was to pass the incident off as a suicide. But it fell through after Rafi managed to come downstairs while on fire because the scarf burned and freed her hands and feet.
In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, Rafi recorded a statement on her brother’s mobile phone.
“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she said in the video. She also identified some of her attackers.
The court proceedings
Majumder said they had investigated the case and had submitted the charge-sheet on May 29, seeking the death penalty for prime accused Doula and 15 others.
The trial for the case began on June 10 when the case moved to a Feni district court. On June 20, 16 people, including Doula were indicted by the court.
The judgment procedure began by examining the case’s plaintiff Noman in the court on June 27.
After completion of final argument from both sides within six months of the incident, Judge Mamunur Rashid of Feni district’s Women and Child Repression Prevention fixed October 24 for delivering its verdict in the case.
The case caused outrage in and outside Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Hasina vowing that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action”.
Rights groups say the number of rape and sexual assault cases has increased in Bangladesh because authorities have failed to prosecute attackers.
Rafi’s first attempt to register a case with the police went unsuccessful as the local police station chief dismissing it as “not a big deal”.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation,” she added.