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Mon Nov 24 00:19:04 SAST 2014

Teen 'tortured in an illegal sharia punishment'

Sapa-AFP | 10 February, 2011 14:330 Comments
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Image by: AP

A teenage Bangladeshi girl who died six days after being publicly whipped had been raped by her alleged lover, her father told the high court in Dhaka.

Hena Begum, 15, died in hospital last week from injuries suffered when she was lashed with a rope by village elders as an Islamic sharia punishment for an alleged extra-marital affair with her cousin.

"The victim's father told the court his daughter was raped by her cousin, and then tortured in an illegal sharia punishment," deputy attorney general Altaf Hossain told AFP.

An initial post-mortem examination found "no external injury marks" on Hena, triggering public outcry at police handling of the case and prompting activists to petition the high court.

Police launched a murder investigation after the body was exhumed and a second post-mortem found Hena had died of internal bleeding.

"We are looking back over all the evidence in the case so far," senior police officer Monir Uzzaman said.

The court on Thursday questioned Hena's parents, the doctors who wrote the first post-mortem report and local police.

It also ordered a disciplinary investigation into one policeman alleged to have been involved in an attempted cover-up of the incident, which occurred in the rural district of Shariatpur in the south of the country.

Salma Ali, a lawyer with Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association, the group that brought the case to court, said officials had concealed the cause of Hena's death.

"Local authorities and the doctors who did the first post-mortem clearly tried to cover up the incident," she told AFP. "The police fabricated evidence to make it look like Hena was having an affair."

One village elder in court, Idris Sheikh, who is alleged to have organised the whipping, was arrested immediately after the hearing.

Hena was sentenced to receive 100 lashes but collapsed midway through the punishment, police say.

Her cousin and alleged lover, Mahbub Khan, was arrested on Wednesday.

In conservative parts of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, rights groups say it is common for women to be publicly whipped for "crimes" such as adultery, despite a ban on such religious punishments.

In some documented cases, rape victims have also been flogged for being a "participant" in their sexual assault.

Last July, Bangladesh's High Court outlawed punishments handed down by religious edict, or fatwa, following a series of cases brought by local human rights groups.

But the ruling has had little effect, rights groups say, pointing to a case in December where a woman died after being whipped 40 times after she was accused of sleeping with her stepson by a similar village court.

The high court on Thursday ordered the Ministry of Information to launch a public awareness campaign in mosques across the country to explain that sharia punishments of this kind are illegal.

Some 90 percent of Bangladesh's 146 million people are Muslims and most live in rural areas.

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