A court in southern Bangladesh has sentenced 16 people to death over the murder of a student who was set on fire after she accused a teacher at an Islamic school of sexual harassment.
The ruling by a special women and children’s tribunal on Monday came six months after 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s murder.
The young woman had died of burn wounds in April after she was doused in kerosene and set alight for refusing to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint against the principal of a school where she was a student.
Hafez Ahmed, lead prosecutor in the case, welcomed Monday’s verdict, saying it proved no one could get away with murder in Bangladesh. “It’s an achievement for the judiciary,” he said.
Mahmudul Hasan Noman, Rafi’s brother, said he was “happy” to see justice served in his sister’s killing.
“They all took part in the murder. Now they have to face the consequences,” he said.
Siraj Ud Doula, head teacher at the Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa, was among the 16 sentenced to death. He denied involvement in the killing but 12 of the suspects had confessed to the crime, according to prosecutors.
Doula’s lawyer, Mahfuzul Haque, said he would appeal the ruling.
“I believe the evidence against my client was not properly scrutinised,” he said.
Speaking a day before the verdict, Rafi’s father AKM Musa Manik said 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 complaint against Doula in March, saying he had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately. The petition led to the teacher’s arrest.
Doula ordered Rafi’s murder from prison, according to the police. His accomplices included two politicians with the ruling Awami League Party – Maksud Alam and Ruhul Amin – and several students at the Islamic school.
On the day of the attack, Rafi was lured to the roof of the school, where five others bound her hands and feet with a scarf and set her ablaze, the police said. The killers had planned to pass off the murder as a suicide, but Rafi managed to run downstairs after the flames burned through the scarf binding her limbs.
In the ambulance, Rafi identified some of her attackers in a video statement and said: “The teacher touched me. I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
She suffered burns to 80 percent of her body and died in hospital five days later.
Her death sparked protests across Bangladesh, prompting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to promise speedy action in the case.
Maleka Banu, general secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, called Monday’s ruling a “landmark verdict”.
“It’s not just about murder; the reason because of which Nusrat was killed shocked the whole country. She wanted to get justice for her sexual harassment, instead of getting that, she was killed brutally … A verdict like this is necessary to let people know that you can’t get away with sexual harassment.”
Human Rights Watch welcomed the prosecution of the suspects but said it did not support the death penalty against the suspects.
“The brutality with which this young woman was murdered to silence her for daring to complain of sexual abuse had outraged many Bangladeshis. Human Rights Watch does not support the capital punishment because of its inherent cruelty, but we welcome the fact that the authorities prosecuted the perpetrators,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at the human rights group.