Sixteen people were sentenced to death on Thursday for burning alive a Bangladeshi teenager who refused to withdraw sexual assault charges against her head teacher.
The case highlights what activists say is a culture of impunity over sexual violence in the South Asian country of 168 million people, as well as abuse rife in around 20,000 seminaries that educate mostly poor and rural students.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused in kerosene and set on fire on April 6 after she made a sexual harassment complaint against the principal of her rural Islamic seminary.
The head teacher, who a court in the southern coastal town of Feni found had ordered the brutal killing from jail after being arrested over the harassment claim, was among those sentenced to death. Others included activists from the ruling Awami League party and some students — including two females — who either participated in the killing or guarded the gates of the seminary while it took place.
“The verdict proves that nobody will get away with murder in Bangladesh. We have the rule of law,” prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the verdict in a crowded courtroom.
Rafi was lured to the rooftop of the seminary in Sonagazi where her attackers pressed her to withdraw the complaint she had filed with police. When she refused, she was tied up, doused in kerosene and set on fire. She suffered burns to 80% of her body and died in hospital four days later.