A schoolgirl was burned to death in Bangladesh on the orders of her head teacher after she reported him for sexually harassing her, police said on Friday.
The death of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi last week sparked protests across the south Asian nation, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promising to prosecute all those involved.
Rafi was lured to the rooftop of the madrassa she attended where her attackers asked her to withdraw the sexual harassment complaint she had filed with police.
When she refused, she was doused in kerosene and set on fire. Rafi died from burns covering 80 percent of her body on April 10.
Police said on Friday that one of the 17 people arrested in connection with her death 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 is leading the investigation, told AFP.
Victims of sexual harassment in Bangladesh are often shamed or humiliated by officials when they report it, says @hrw.
– There are no witness protection laws or comprehensive school anti-harassment laws
– Less than 1% of reported rapes result in convictions, say rights groups pic.twitter.com/9ttE3c37ms
— AJ+ (@ajplus) April 18, 2019
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”.
Iqbal said at least five of those under arrest, including three of Rafi’s classmates, 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.
In the ambulance, fearing she might not survive, Rafi recorded a statement on her brother’s mobile phone.
“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she said. She also identified some of her attackers.
According to local media reports, Rafi also wrote a letter on her class notebook, before she was set on fire, describing how the principal sexually assaulted her.
Two young men have confessed involvement in Rafi’s killing. They include a man who admitted to have a grudge against her for refusing his own advances.
Her family members said they have been receiving threats from the principal’s supporters since the filling of the case in March.
— মেঘ (@Megh_18) April 11, 2019
Outrage in Bangladesh
The case has caused outrage in Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Hasina vowing that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action.”
Rights groups say the number of rape and sexual assault cases has increased in Bangladesh because authorities have failed to prosecute attackers.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation,” she added.
Al Jazeera and news agencies