International

Death penalty for 16 who set student on fire

A Bangladesh court has sentenced 16 people to death for the murder of a student set on fire after accusing her teacher of sexual harassment.

Nusrat Jahan Rafi, 19, died in April in Feni, a small town some 160km (100 miles) outside the capital Dhaka.

Those convicted of murder included the headteacher Nusrat had accused of harassment and two female classmates.

Her murder shocked the country and led to a series of protests demanding justice for Nusrat.

The trial has been one of the quickest in a country where such cases usually take years to conclude. Prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters it proved “that nobody will get away with murder in Bangladesh”.

However, the quick conclusion of the case did little to ease her mother’s agony on Thursday.

“I can’t forget her for a moment,” Shirin Akhtar told news agency Reuters through tears upon hearing the verdict. “I still feel the pain that she went through.”

Lawyers for the defendants say they will appeal.

The investigation into Nusrat’s death revealed a conspiracy to silence her which included her own classmates and a number of powerful men from within the community.

Three teachers, including the headmaster, Siraj Ud Doula, who police say ordered the killing from prison after he was arrested under suspicion of harassment, were found guilty by the court on Thursday. Another two of the defendants convicted, Ruhul Amin and Maksud Alam, are local leaders of the ruling Awami League party.

A number of local police were found to have collaborated with those convicted in spreading false information that Nusrat had committed suicide. The officers were not among those tried for Nusrat’s murder.

Nusrat’s family, who supported her decision to go to police back in March, have since been given police protection. Her brother Mahmudul Hasan Noman said they were still in fear for their lives.

“You already know they threatened me in public inside the courtroom,” he told reporters. “I am very afraid. I am urging the prime minister to ensure our security. And the police super should also keep a track on our wellbeing.”

However, the family welcomed the verdict, asking for the sentence to be carried out quickly. In Bangladesh, the death penalty is carried out by hanging.