Bangladesh to mull death penalty in rape law review after protests

Naimul Karim, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted at Oct 09 2020 10:43 PM

DHAKA - Bangladesh's government will consider introducing the death penalty for rape, a government minister said on Friday, following angry protests this week over an online video showing a group of men sexually assaulting a woman.

The country's law minister said his department was preparing a proposal to make urgent amendments to the current rape legislation, including capital punishment for rapists. The review is due to be submitted to the cabinet on Monday.

"We need to ensure that those who are proven guilty get the punishment they deserve... this is being drafted on behalf of the prime minister's instructions," Law Minister Anisul Huq told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The toughest penalty for rape in Bangladesh is life imprisonment at present, but women's rights activists have said the government should ensure proper implementation of the current law as opposed to solely focusing on making it stricter.

More than 950 women were raped in Bangladesh in the first nine months of this year, according to rights group Ain o Salish Kendra. That was similar to the number of rapes reported during the same period last year, but up from 2018.

Campaigners, however, say the real number is much higher, with many women reluctant to report sexual assaults.

Hundreds of Bangladeshis took to the streets of Dhaka and other cities this week to protest, demanding safe spaces for women and the arrest of rapists after the video circulated on social media.

An investigation by the country's National Human Rights Commission - an autonomous state body - found that the woman in the video had been threatened and raped repeatedly by one of the men in the group over the last year.

Police have arrested at least 10 suspects in connection with the video, said Alamgir Hossain, police superintendent in Noakhali, the southeastern city where the footage was shot.

Two weeks earlier, the alleged gang rape of a woman in a student hostel in the northeastern city of Sylhet sparked similar street protests and calls for the government to take steps to tackle sexual violence.

"The Bangladesh government needs to listen to women," said Meenakshi Ganguly, from Human Rights Watch, on Friday. "The government should ensure that all sexual assault survivors are treated with dignity."

Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said tougher penalties would not be enough.

"Focusing solely on capital punishment won't work... Our Women and Children Repression Prevention tribunals are overburdened. The number of courts need to increase," she said.

"We also need to focus on victim protection. Several other aspects related to this law need to be updated," she added.