Bangladesh finalizes anti-rape law with death penalty

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Bangladesh on Tuesday finalized capital punishment against rape as the country’s president signed an ordinance approving the promulgation of the existing life-term rigorous imprisonment to death penalty amid nationwide anti-rape protests.

“We are hopeful that the inhuman rape offenses will notably be controlled as we are going to adopt other necessary measures along with the enactment of new law,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told Anadolu Agency.

Bangladesh marks widespread street protests for the last couple of days following a horrific video clipping that went viral on the social media platforms, showing a group of the ruling Awami League party men brutally attacking and sexually harassing a woman in the country’s southeastern district of Noakhali.

Only a few days back, on Sept. 25 night, a group of youth also belonging to the ruling party’s student wing ambushed a young couple in front of a college in the country’s eastern district of Sylhet and gang-raped the woman, confining her husband inside the college hostel.

The two incidents along with regular local media reports on raping perpetrated by men closely involved in politics have ignited massive discontent among the public.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also directed the law enforcers to immediately arrest the culprits irrespective of their political affiliations.

Addressing rapists as “beasts”, Hasina on Tuesday added that her government has to induct the capital punishment against rape to save girls and women from those “notorious beasts”.

“The rapists are [like] beasts as they exhibit their inhumane nature affecting our girls […] we’ve amended the law and included capital punishment for rape,” she said in a virtual program.

Police and the country’s elite force have already launched anti-rapist drives and detained more than a half-dozen of the accused who are now under trial.

Meanwhile, in the wake of massive protests, the country finalized capital punishment against rape although rights activists and experts have expressed doubts over the misuse of the law.

New law may further endanger life

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, human rights expert and former professor of Dhaka University CR Abrar said: “I personally don’t like death penalty. If capital punishment could curb crimes in Bangladesh, the number of murder incidents would have lessened.”

He added that the main problem is the lack of proper utilization of law. “If the existing law is applied properly with investigation officials working independently and honestly without any political interference, not only rape but all other crimes can be controlled.”

Abrar warned that the provision of capital punishment against rape might rather endanger the life of the victims in the future. “The unintended consequence of it is that a tendency to kill the raped might be grown among rapists in the future with a view to hiding the proofs.”

He opined that before the enactment of such a big law, the government should have discussed it with all stakeholders and jurists. “A long debate could be held in the parliament before enacting it”.

“Until controlling misuse of power, political influence over law and judiciary, the attempt of any frisking solution could not function properly,” Abrar said.

Nina Goswami, the local rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (Law and Arbitration Center) program head, told Anadolu Agency that only in 3% of rape incidents we finally see a verdict.

“But in 97% of cases, we see lengthy judicial procedures.”

“During the long judicial steps, most of the victims lose their interest to run the cases. In some cases, criminals get interim bail misusing power and illegal money,” she added.

Underlining the current trend of the society, she further said that in the wake of life threats by the offenders, sex victims in many cases even stay silent.

She said there is a provision of capital punishment if any victim dies after rape. “But we hardly see any implementation of this provision in the real ground”.

Mixed reaction in youth protesters

Meanwhile, the youth protesters have expressed mixed reactions about the enactment of capital punishment in rape cases.

Television, Film, and Photography Department student at Dhaka University Billal Hossain told Anadolu Agency that rapists must be hanged till death.

“I support this new law and I think that in case of proper implementation of this law, rape incidents can be controlled effectively,” Hossain said.

But it largely depends on the good intention of the government, he said, adding that the ruling party men might misuse it.

Opposing the death penalty, another student protester Progati Barman Tama, also the general secretary of Dhaka University’s unit of Socialists Students’ Front, told Anadolu Agency that the culture of “political impunity” in case of any criminal offenses must be stopped.

“We sometimes see the punishment of some rapists but the masterminds of those criminals must bring to justice. Otherwise, there is a huge risk of political harassment of the new law,” Tama added.

Socio-cultural motivation and changes in overall education highlighting contributions of women is a must to grow respect for women among people since childhood, she opined.

Gov’t assures of proper use of law

In reply to the query of concerns from experts as well as protesters of misuse of the law, the minister further told Anadolu Agency that in dealing with rape cases under the new law, they will ensure fairness without any political interference.

“I will request the chief justice to issue a direction to Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal for early completion of trial of the pending rape cases with priority to older cases,” Haq said.

He added: “We strictly direct the prosecution to remove all types of bars on the way to proper justice in rape cases. We will also closely monitor the trial procedures”.

Meanwhile, international rights watchdog Amnesty International said the death penalty is not the real solution to the violence against women in Bangladesh.

Responding to the Bangladeshi government’s decision to introduce the death penalty as a punishment for rape, South Asia Researcher of the AI Sultan Mohammed Zakaria said: “This regressive step is a fig leaf that deflects attention from the lack of real action to address the appalling brutality faced by so many Bangladeshi women.”

He added: “Instead of seeking vengeance, the authorities must focus on ensuring justice for the victims of sexual violence including through delivering the long-term changes that would stop this epidemic of violence and prevent it from recurring.”

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