February 26, 2024


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Bangladesh to introduce death penalty for rape

Members of a feminist group take part in an ongoing protest in front of the parliamentary building, demanding justice for the alleged gang rape of a woman in Noakhali, southern district of Bangladesh, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 10, 2020.
A brutal gang rape last week led to protests in Bangladesh over the weekend

Bangladesh is to introduce the death penalty for rape cases, following days of protests about the country’s high level of sexual violence against women.

Law Minister Anisul Haq told the BBC that the president would issue an ordinance on Tuesday making it law.

There was widespread outrage in Bangladesh last week after footage of a brutal gang assault on a 37-year-old woman went viral on social media.

At least 1,000 rapes have been reported in Bangladesh this year, activists say.

But many cases go unreported because women fear they will be stigmatised, according to human rights advocates, and in cases that are reported conviction rates are extremely low. Protesters galvanised by last week’s viral video have demanded faster trials and changes to the way rape cases are prosecuted.

An investigation by Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission found that the woman in the viral video, who was attacked in the southeastern district of Noakhali, had been raped repeatedly over time and terrorised. Eight men were arrested after the video emerged.

A student holds a placard during a protest against rape and sexual assaults on women as they demand justices in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 08 October 2020.
Protesters called for the death penalty in response to recent high-profile cases of assault

In a separate case another woman was allegedly gang raped last week in a hostel in the northern district of Sylhet, leading to the arrest of several members of the student wing of the ruling party.

Bangladesh was rocked over the weekend by an unprecedented level of protest. Demonstrators carried signs reading “Hang the rapists” and “No mercy to rapists”. In the capital Dhaka, a mock gallows was erected by protesters.

Responding directly to the protests, the government decided to make the change by way of an ordinance, since parliament is not sitting – effectively passing it directly into law.

Analysis box by Rajini Vaidyanathan, South Asia correspondent
Analysis box by Rajini Vaidyanathan, South Asia correspondent

This year alone, more than 1,000 rapes were reported in Bangladesh, according to a human rights group in the country. A fifth were gang rapes.

It was the case of one 37-year-old last week which sparked the recent protests and in many ways forced the government to take this action. The UN has now weighed in, saying the gang rape in Noakhali underlined the “state of social, behavioural and structural misogyny” in Bangladesh.

At the weekend, Ananta Jalil, a well known actor, posted a video in which he said women who wore revealing dresses were inviting rape. After criticism, he issued a statement of clarification, but it appeared to simply double down on his initial remarks.

Many have welcomed the government’s decision to introduce the death penalty, but gang rapes have continued to make headlines in recent days, and some say it will take more than the death penalty to fundamentally shift attitudes towards sexual violence in Bangladesh.