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16 People Were Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh for Setting a Student on Fire

Nusrat Jahan Rafi was killed after refusing to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint against her principal.

by David Gilbert
Oct 24 2019, 11:37am

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Sixteen people have been sentenced to death for the murder of 18-year-old student Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was set on fire after refusing to withdraw a complaint that one of her teachers was sexually harassing her.

Among those convicted were two female classmates as well as the principal of the Islamic college, who Rafi accused of touching her inappropriately in his office.

Rafi’s murder in April shocked the country and led to mass protests calling for the killers to be brought to justice. Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with Rafi’s family and promised to prosecute all those involved.

There were angry scenes in the courtroom on Thursday, which was packed with the victim’s family and friends. While they welcomed the outcome, Rafi’s family say they are still in fear of their lives.

Rafi’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, told reporters the defendants had publicly threatened him in the courtroom. “I am very afraid. I am urging the prime minister to ensure our security. And the police super should also keep a track on our wellbeing.”

Lawyers for the defendants indicated they will appeal the ruling. Twelve of the defendants confessed, according to the prosecutor.

Rafi, who lived in Feni, a small town about 100 miles outside the capital Dhaka, said she was summoned by her principal Siraj Ud Doula on March 27.

The 18-year-old told police that he repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner before she fled. A young woman making such an accusation against a man in a position of power is very uncommon in Bangladesh, and rights groups have said that the prevalence of sex crimes in the country is much higher than reported.

The police arrested Doula but prosecutors say he and another teacher, together with local leaders of the ruling Awami League party — who were also among the 16 convicted on Thursday — ordered students to carry out the killing.

On April 6, against the wishes of her family, Rafi returned to school for an exam. A female classmate asked Rafi to come to the roof of the school where she said another classmate was being beaten up.

Rafi said that when she got to the roof she was surrounded by five people wearing burkas who pressured her into withdrawing her statement. When she refused to back down, her attackers held her down, tied her hands, and poured kerosene over her before setting her on fire.

Rafi was rushed to a local hospital where doctors found burns over 80 percent of her body. She was able to record a statement about the attack on her brother’s mobile phone while she was in the ambulance.

Rafi died four days later.

Cover: In this photo taken on April 12, 2019, Bangladeshi women hold placards and photographs of schoolgirl Nusrat Jahan Rafi at a protest in Dhaka, following her murder by being set on fire after she had reported a sexual assault. (Photo credit should read SAZZAD HOSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

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