Executed for being raped

2011-04-02 13:03

We’re all focused right now on Libya, but this story from Bangladesh just broke my heart and outraged me – and it offers a reminder of the daily human rights struggles so many women and girls in villages across the world must face.

A 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Hena, was allegedly ambushed when she went to an outdoor toilet. She was then gagged, beaten and raped by an older man in her village who was actually her cousin.

They were caught by the alleged rapist’s wife and the wife then beat Hena up.

An imam at a local mosque issued a fatwa saying that Hena was guilty of adultery and should be punished, and a makeshift village court sentenced Hena to 100 lashes in a public whipping.

Her last words were protestations of innocence. An excellent CNN blog post, based on interviews with family members, reads: “The parents had no choice but to mind the imam’s order.

“They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child, and as she fell unconscious to the ground.”

Hena collapsed after 70 lashes and was taken to hospital.

She died a week later, by some accounts because of internal bleeding and a general loss of blood. The doctors recorded her death as a suicide.

Women and girls who are raped are typically expected to commit suicide, to spare everyone the embarrassment of an honour crime.

I’ve covered enough of these kinds of stories to know that it’s difficult to know exactly what happened unless you’re on the scene, talking to everyone who was there.

Maybe the imam has a different version of events.

But all accounts that I’ve seen suggest that this was a brutal attack on a helpless girl in the name of sharia and justice.

Fortunately, Bangladesh has a robust civil society, which has reacted with outrage to the case.

A court ordered the body to be exhumed after word leaked out, and an examination revealed severe injuries.

Lawsuits are now under way against the doctors who had called her death a suicide, and several people have been rounded up including the alleged rapist.

The Bangladeshi press is also on the case.

Now Hena’s family is under police protection because of concern that other villagers will exact revenge on them for getting the imam and others in trouble.

Let’s hope that the public reaction and punishments are so strong that the word goes out to all of Bangladesh’s villages that such misogynist fatwas are not only immoral but also illegal.

And that the crime lies not in being raped, but in raping. © The New York Times

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