Dhaka: Sixteen Bangladeshis along with the school principle have been sentenced to death for the murder of a 19-year-old student, Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who was burned to death in April after complaining of being sexually harassed. Nusrat was killed after she refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said. The killers poured kerosene over Nusrat, 18, and set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in April in the southeastern district of Feni. Police said in their chargesheet that the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.
The case was summoned at the women and children repression prevention tribunal in Feni, where the judge, Mamunur Rashid, delivered the verdicts to a packed, chaotic courtroom after a fast-tracked trial. The death sentences will be sent to the country’s high court for confirmation and are likely to be appealed. “The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed said after the court verdict. He said the defence lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide. Defence lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said his clients will challenge the verdict in the high court.
According to the evidence, after Nusrat arrived at the school to take an exam, a classmate named Poppy lured her to a rooftop, where five others – including three of her classmates – tied her hands and feet with a scarf before setting her on fire. The conspirators had hoped to pass off the incident as suicide by self immolation, but the plan fell through after flames burned through the scarf binding her and she was able to get down from the roof for help. Her brother recorded a video statement from her in the ambulance on a mobile phone. Having sustained 80% burns, Nusrat died five days later, having been moved to a hospital in Dhaka. Nusrat’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said. Local media reported that police were deployed in and around Nusrat's home for the security of the family members amid fears of reprisals.
PM Sheikh Hasina had met her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice. “I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict. Nusrat's brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals. “We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.