Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

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Bangladeshi women hold placards and photographs of schoolgirl Nusrat Jahan Rafi at a protest in Dhaka, following her murder by being set on fire after she had reported a sexual assault. (AFP)
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A Bangladeshi woman holds a placard with a photograph of schoolgirl Nusrat Jahan Rafi at a protest in Dhaka, following her murder by being set on fire after she had reported a sexual assault. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2019
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Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas
  • The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative nation of 160 million people

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Dozens of protesters gathered in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to demand justice for an 18-year-old woman who died after being set on fire for refusing to drop sexual harassment charges against her Islamic school’s principal.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas. When she refused, she said her hands were tied and she was doused in kerosene and set alight.
Rafi told the story to her brother in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and he recorded her testimony on his mobile phone. She died four days later in a Dhaka hospital with burns covering 80% of her body.
The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported, victims are intimidated and the legal process is often lengthy. Many avoid reporting to police because of social stigma.
“We want justice. Our girls must grow up safely and with dignity,” Alisha Pradhan, a model and actress, told The Associated Press during Friday’s demonstration. “We protest any forms of violence against women, and authorities must ensure justice.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Rafi’s funeral prayers in Feni, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised Rafi’s family when they met in Dhaka that those responsible would be punished.
At least 17 people, including students, have been arrested in connection with the case, said Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation.
In late March, Rafi filed a complaint with police that the principal of her madrasa, or Islamic school, had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Her family agreed to help her to file the police complaint, which prompted police to arrest the principal, infuriating him and his supporters. Influential local politicians backed the principal, and ruling party members were also among the arrested.
Police said the arrested suspects told them during interrogations that the attack on Rafi was planned and ordered by the school’s principal from prison when his men went to see him. It was timed for daytime so that it would look like a suicide attempt, Majumder said.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rafi’s family said that they had received death threats before the attack telling them to drop the case.
While Rafi’s case is now being treated with urgency, that wasn’t the case until her death.
A video taken on March 27 while Rafi reported the assault shows the local police chief registering her complaint but telling her that the incident was “not a big deal.” The chief was later removed from the police station for negligence in dealing with the case.
For Bangladeshi women, it is often not easy to file sensitive complaints with police. Victims often fear further harassment and bullying. Police also often show an unwillingness to investigate such cases and are often accused of being influenced by local politics or bribes.
But the call for dealing with violence against women, especially related to sexual harassment and assault, is also getting louder.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”


Philippines’ Duterte loses patience, orders trash shipped back Canada

Updated 22 May 2019
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Philippines’ Duterte loses patience, orders trash shipped back Canada

  • Canada says the waste, exported to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, was a commercial transaction not backed by the Canadian government
  • Canada has since offered to take the rubbish back

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to send 69 containers of garbage back to Canada and leave them within its territorial waters if it refuses to accept the trash, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
“The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nation,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told a media briefing.
Canada says the waste, exported to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, was a commercial transaction not backed by the Canadian government.
Canada has since offered to take the rubbish back and the two countries are in the process of arranging the transfer.
But Canada missed a May 15 deadline set by Manila to take back the shipment, prompting the Philippines to withdraw top diplomats from Canada last week.
“Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously. The Filipino people are gravely insulted about Canada treating this country as a dump site,” Panelo said.
The Canadian embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Philippines has made several diplomatic protests to Canada since a 2016 court ruling that the garbage be returned.
The consignments were labelled as containing plastics to be recycled in the Philippines but were filled with a variety of rubbish including diapers, newspapers and water bottles.
The issue is not the only one to strain ties between the two countries.
Last year, Duterte ordered the military to cancel a $233 million deal to buy 16 helicopters from Canada, after Ottawa expressed concern they could be used to fight rebels.