Sexually assaulted girl burned to death; Protest erupts

Last Updated 20 April 2019, 12:28 IST

Demonstrations were held across the Bangladesh capital on Saturday for the tenth consecutive day after a teenager who accused a head teacher of sexually harassing her was burned to death.

The killing of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi has sparked outrage across the South Asian nation and put police action in the case under the spotlight.

Protesters in Dhaka chanted slogans demanding the death sentence for the killers of the girl, who police say was lured to the rooftop of the Islamic seminary she attended in Feni, south of the capital.

Police said the attackers then ordered her to withdraw a police complaint against the head of the school. When she refused, she was doused in kerosene and set on fire.

Rafi died in hospital on April 10 after suffering 80 per cent burns.

Eighteen people, including the head teacher, have been arrested.

Her death has set off demonstrations in several cities across the Muslim-majority country of 165 million.

Many believe the murder has exposed a "culture of impunity" surrounding sex crimes against women and children, while those who complain often feel a backlash.

"Rapes and sexual assaults have risen alarmingly in the country," protester M. Rahman Apu told AFP. "Nusrat Rafi's murder proves that the even the bravest of girls do not get justice.

"Instead she was murdered for daring to lodge a complaint against the perpetrator. Had police and the administration worked properly, she could have been protected," Apu said.

Garment union leader Kamrun Nahar, who had also joined the protests, said Rafi's murder has awakened the nation's conscience.

"We won't stop protests until the killers of Nusrat, and other perpetrators, are brought to book," Nahar said.

"We don't want any more of these grisly murders."

The 18 arrested include the seminary headmaster. One of those accused of the attack told a closed court earlier this week that the principal ordered the killing.

The local head of the ruling Awami League party has been detained for allegedly helping the killers.

Rafi went to police in late March to report the case. A leaked video shows the local police station chief registering her complaint but dismissing it as "not a big deal".

Police said at least five of those under arrest, including three of Rafi's classmates, tied her with a scarf before setting her on fire. They had planned to pass off the death as a suicide.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed that all those involved will face action and police say they are investigating why more was not done to protect Rafi.

The Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-government group, says there have been at least 39 cases of children under 18 being raped since April 2.

Another eight have been subjected to sexual harassment, the groups say.

"Our system has failed," said Shipa Hafiza, executive director of Bangladesh rights group Ain O Salish Kendra

"Often we see that when there are rapes or sexual abuse of women or children, all the powerful people become a group to protect the perpetrators," she said.

(Published 20 April 2019, 12:03 IST)

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