16 people have been sentenced to death in Bangladesh for the murder of an 18 year old student after she refused to withdraw a case for sexual harassment against her headteacher.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi filed a case for sexual harassment against the headteacher of her school, Siraj Ud Doula.
She filed a complaint stating he had attempted to rape her earlier this year on 27 March.
After approaching local police to report the case, a video was leaked showing the chief of police registering her complaint, but dismissing it as “not a big deal”.
Despite this, the headteacher was arrested and sent to jail. Allegedly he had issued orders from his jail cell to outside accomplices to kill Nusrat if she did not retract her complaint.
Among those contacted were two local ruling Awami League political party leaders, and several school students.
According to evidence, after Nusrat arrived at the school to take an exam on 5 April, 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 dousing her in kerosene and 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 to her body, Nusrat died five days later.
Nusrat’s murder sparked public outcry and protests broke out across Bangladesh to urge the government to bring in tougher measures against sex offenders.
The case was heard at the women and children repression prevention tribunal in Feni, Southern Bangladesh, where judge Mamunur Rashid delivered the verdict.
Among those found guilty were former members of the school administration, teachers and pupils.
12 of the 16 confessed to participating in the killing.
The death sentences will be sent to the country’s high court for confirmation and they are thought likely to be appealed.
Nusrat’s mother Shirin Akhtar said: “I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through.”
The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was quoted in local media saying she was, “lost for words to condemn what happened.”
Activists said the murder has exposed a culture of exemption from punishment around sexual crimes against women and children.
After the murder, Bangladesh ordered 27,000 schools to set up committees to prevent sexual violence.