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.”


Members of first all-female Afghan orchestra missing in Slovakia

Updated 39 min 1 sec ago
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Members of first all-female Afghan orchestra missing in Slovakia

  • Zohra, an ensemble of 35 teenagers and young women musicians, played a concert on Saturday at a festival in the western town of Trencin
  • Some members of Zohra are orphans or from poor families

BRATISLAVA: Police in Slovakia said on Thursday they were searching for four members of Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra who went missing from their hotel after performing at a local festival.
Zohra, an ensemble of 35 teenagers and young women musicians, played a concert on Saturday at a festival in the western town of Trencin, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Bratislava, near the Czech border.
Four members went missing from their hotel on Sunday, Slovak police said.
“I can confirm that the search for two female teenagers and two female adults from Afghanistan is ongoing,” Pavol Kudlicka, a spokesperson for the Trencin regional police, told AFP on Thursday.
He added that the musicians returned to their hotel after the concert but went missing the next morning.
“Due to legal reasons and the ongoing investigation no names can be disclosed for now,” Kudlicka added.
Local Slovak media reported that some orchestra members had said that one of the girls had a cousin in Germany.
Some members of Zohra are orphans or from poor families.
They have faced death threats in their homeland where music was banned during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 rule.
Music is still frowned upon in much of Afghan society, which is tightly segregated by gender.
Despite the disappearance, the Zohra orchestra, named after a Persian goddess of music, played several concerts in western Slovakia this week.
They have performed at home and abroad, notably at the closing the World Economic Forum in Davos two years ago.