The Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal declared its verdict on Thursday
A Feni court on Thursday sentenced 16 people to death, in the case filed over the murder of madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who refused to withdraw a sexual harassment case against her institution’s principal.
On April 6, the 18-year-old Alim examinee was set on fire — 10 days after her family filed the case at Sonagazi police station against SM Sirajuddaula, the then principal of Sonagazi Islamia Fazil (Degree) Madrasa, for sexually harassing her.
After battling death with 80% burns on her body, Nusrat died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) four days later, further fuelling widespread protests nationwide demanding justice for the girl, and leading the authorities to take prompt action.
Setting a precedent, Feni’s Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal on Thursday delivered the verdict in the murder case after just 61 days of court proceedings, one of the quickest in the country’s recent history.
Judge Mamunur Rashid of the tribunal pronounced the judgment in presence of the convicts at 11:21am in a crowded courtroom packed with the plaintiffs, lawyers, national and international journalists.
All 16 accused were proven guilty, and awarded the capital punishment under Section 4(1)/30 of the Woman and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000, said the judge while reading out the summery verdict.
The court also fined all the accused Tk1 lakh each, and ordered the Feni district magistrate to hand over the money, once realized, to Nusrat's parents.
The convicts are prime accused SM Sirajuddaula, who orchestrated Nusrat’s murder, Nur Uddin, Shahdat Hossain Shamim, Maksud Alam, Saifur Rahman Md Zobayer, Sakhawat Hossain Jabed, Abdul Kader, Absar Uddin, Kamrun Nahar Moni, Umme Sultana Popy, Abdur Rahim Sharif, Eftekhar Uddin Rana, Imran Hossain Mamun, Mohammad Shamim, Ruhul Amin, and Mohiuddin Shakil.
According to confessional statements of 12 of them and police, Nusrat’s classmate Popy had tricked her, and took her to the rooftop of the madrasa’s cyclone shelter on April 6, after they came to sit for a test.
There, Shamim and Nusrat’s other classmates Jabed and Moni pinned her down on the floor, poured kerosene on her, and set her on fire. All four were wearing burqas and gloves at the time.
Sirajuddaula was in prison, after he was arrested in the sexual harassment case on March 27, when he ordered his cohorts and followers to kill Nusrat, according to investigators.
Both Maksud and Ruhul are local Awami League leaders who knew about the plan to murder Nusrat and aided the others.
According to police, the perpetrators had tried to make it look like a suicide. But Nusrat had managed to escape and get help from other classmates and police deployed near the madrasa.
While undergoing treatment at DMCH, she had given her statement to police, where she detailed the attack on her.
"I will fight till my last breath," she had said adamantly, shaking the nation and sparking outrage across the country.
Many of the accused appeared normal and smiling when all 16 were brought to the court around 11:05am on Thursday.
But after the verdict, some of the convicts, including Sirajuddaula, were seen breaking down in tears while several others started shouting out across the courtroom that they had been denied justice, as they were being taken to the prison van outside.
Meanwhile, people from across the country on Thursday also took to social media to hail the death sentence verdict, saying justice was served.
‘Swift execution must’
Nusrat’s father AKM Musa, and brothers Mahmudul Hasan Noman and Rashedul Hasan Rayhan were also present at the court.
Noman, who had filed the case two days after the murder attempt on Nusrat, said they were happy to see that justice was served.
Nusrat’s death had later turned the attempted murder case into a murder case.
"They murdered my sister. Now they have to face the consequences," Noman said, adding that all they wanted now was a swift execution of the judgment.
The brothers also thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her pledge, and initiative in ensuring justice for Nusrat and her family.
After the verdict, talking to reporters, Nusrat's father Musa broke into tears while expressing satisfaction over the fact that his daughter’s killers “got what they deserved.”
Musa also thanked the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) for completing the investigation quickly.
However, both Noman and Musa also sought protection from law enforcement agencies for their family against possible reprisals. Since the first case against Sirajuddaula was filed, Nusrat’s family had been saying that they were receiving threats from his cohorts, and followers.
Talking to reporters at their home, Nusrat's mother Shirin Aktar said: “I cannot forget her even for a moment. I still feel the pain my daughter went through.”
She also demanded quick execution of the verdict.
Prosecution happy, defence cries foul
Lead prosecutor Hafez Ahmed, and lawyer for Nusrat’s family M Shahjahan Saju expressed satisfaction over the judgment, calling it exemplary.
Hafez said: “The verdict proves that no one is above the law and can get away with murder in Bangladesh. It's an achievement for the judiciary.”
He said that the defence lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Nusrat committed suicide.
However, defence lawyers Ahsan Kabir Bengal, and Giasuddin Nannu told reporters that the accused were denied justice, and they will move the High Court challenging the verdict.
Both Hafez, a public prosecutor at the Feni tribunal, and Saju expressed hope that the High Court will quickly dispose off the defence’s appeal, and uphold the capital punishment of the convicts.
The tribunal said the convicts were eligible to appeal against the verdict at the High Court within seven working days.
PM, PBI happy
PBI chief Banaj Kumar Majumder in a media statement later in the day said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed satisfaction over the verdict while talking to the inspector general of police.
He said the prime minister, and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also thanked PBI, which investigated the case, and charged the 16 quickly.
The case was transferred to PBI after Sonagazi police was accused of being negligent in addressing the matter even before Nusrat’s death.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune on Thursday, DIG Banaj himself also expressed satisfaction over the verdict. “We established in paper every truth our investigation uncovered. We felt that all the accused are equally guilty.
“We are happy that our expectations have been reflected in the verdict."
Dhaka Tribune’s Arifur Rahman Rabbi and Tanjir Rahman contributed to this report