Bangladesh charges 16 over murder of teenage schoolgirl

Activists hold posters demanding justice for Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who died in hospital on April 10, five days after she was attacked at the Sonagazi Islamia Madrasa.
Activists hold posters demanding justice for Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who died in hospital on April 10, five days after she was attacked at the Sonagazi Islamia Madrasa. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

She was set on fire after reporting her headmaster for sexual assault

DHAKA • Police in Bangladesh have charged 16 people over the murder of a teenage girl who was set on fire at an Islamic seminary last month, after she accused a headmaster of sexual assault.

Nineteen-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi died in hospital on April 10, four days after she was attacked at the Sonagazi Islamia madrasah.

The case has sparked a nationwide outcry against sexual abuse and harassment.

Ms Rafi was taken by two classmates to the rooftop of the school where the accused asked her to withdraw the case against headmaster Siraj Ud Doula, according to Mr Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI).

When she refused, a group of five people poured kerosene on her and set her on fire, Mr Majumder said, adding that the accused had confessed.

Ms Rafi suffered burns to 80 per cent of her body.

Police submitted the charges against the headmaster and 15 associates to a court in the district of Feni, investigator Mohammad Iqbal said, adding that he hoped the court would soon pass an indictment order for the trial to start.

Five of the accused were directly involved in the murder while the others helped them carry out their plan, he said.

Investigators are seeking the death penalty for all of them.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr Majumder said the headmaster had plotted the killing from jail after he was arrested in late March, when Ms Rafi's family filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.

 

Ms Rafi had gone to the 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".

Her brother, Mr Mahmudul Hasan Noman, said the family wanted a fast-track trial, and for "all the culprits to be hanged".

Mahila Parishad, a women's rights group, has given a "guarded welcome" for the quick investigation of the case, but said more needed to be done to end a "culture of impunity" over sexual harassment and rape cases.

"Very few rape cases end in convictions," the group said, adding that about 950 women were raped in Bangladesh last year.

The BBC, in a more detailed account of the attack on Ms Rafi, quoted PBI chief Majumder as describing the careful planning of the attack - including the purchase of kerosene, burkas and gloves.

The accused are alleged to have divided roles among themselves on April 6, the day of the murder. Some guarded the gates of the school, while others kept watch in front of the building where Ms Rafi was to be attacked, Mr Majumder said.

According to a statement given by Ms Rafi, she was lured to the rooftop by a fellow female student, who told her that one of her friends was being beaten up.

There, she was pressured to withdraw the case and asked to sign a blank piece of paper. When she refused, she was gagged and bound before being doused with kerosene and set on fire.

In the ambulance, she recorded a statement on her brother's mobile phone and identified some of her attackers as students at the school.

"The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath," Ms Rafi can be heard saying in the video.

DPA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2019, with the headline 'Bangladesh charges 16 over murder of teenage schoolgirl'. Print Edition | Subscribe