Sixteen people have been sentenced to death in Bangladesh for the murder of a schoolgirl who was burned alive after she accused the headmaster of her school of sexually abusing her.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, was tied up, doused in kerosene and set on fire on the rooftop of her school in Feni, a small town 100 miles from Dhaka, back in April.
Headmaster Siraj Ud Doula was among three teachers found guilty over the case, along with Ruhul Amin and Maksud Alam, leaders of a local political party.
Prosecutors said the attackers had pressured Nusrat to withdraw her complaint against the headmaster, then set her alight when she refused.
They said the attackers tried to make the death look like a suicide but the plan backfired when the flames burned through a scarf used to tie her and she escaped.
Still on fire, she ran for help and was taken to hospital with burns to 80 per cent of her body.
While on the way to hospital her brother filmed a video in which she explained what had happened and named some of her attackers.
‘The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,’ she said. She died five days later in hospital.
‘The verdict proves that nobody will get away with murder in Bangladesh. We have the rule of law,’ prosecutor Hafez Ahmed said following the verdict.
Her death triggered outrage and also highlighted an alarming rise in sexual harassment cases in the South Asian country of 165 million people.
Protesters in the capital Dhaka staged days of demonstrations seeking ‘exemplary punishment’ for the killers.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had promised to prosecute all those involved.
Rafi had gone to police in late March to report the sexual harassment, and a leaked video shows the local police station chief registering her complaint but dismissing it as ‘not a big deal’.
At the time police had said that one of the 18 people initially arrested had accused the school’s principal of ordering the attack.
The teacher ‘told them to put pressure on Rafi to withdraw the case or kill her if she refused’, senior police superintendent Mohammad Iqbal, who led the investigation, had told AFP.
Iqbal had also said that some of those arrested were Rafi’s classmates and that they had tied her up with a scarf before setting her on fire.
‘The plan was to pass the incident off as a suicide. But it fell through after Rafi managed to come downstairs while on fire because the scarf burnt and freed her hands and feet,’ he said.
Activists say the murder exposed a culture of impunity surrounding sex crimes against women and children, and that fact that those who report harassment often suffer a backlash.
Prosecutions are also rare in cases of rape and sexual assault.
After the murder, Bangladesh ordered some 27,000 schools to set up committees to prevent sexual violence.
Defence lawyers said they would appeal against Thursday’s verdict in the high court.
The case was fast-tracked with the hearing taking only 62 days.