Dhaka: Sixteen people including the head of a madrasa were sentenced to death by a Bangladeshi court on Thursday for burning alive a teenage girl student for refusing to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint against him.
The gruesome murder took place in April when a gang of killers poured kerosene over 18-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi and set her on fire on the roof of the madrasa in the southeastern Feni, some 162 kms outside the capital Dhaka.
"They (convicts) will be hanged by neck until their death," Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal Judge Mamunur Rashid pronounced the judgement.
The incident had sparked nationwide public outrage and mass demonstrations across Bangladesh with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordering an expedited investigation in the quickest possible time. She also met Rafi's family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.
Police earlier said their investigation revealed that the madrasa's principal Siraj Ud Doula, who was already in jail on sexual harassment charges, ordered his cohorts to kill Rafi if she refused to withdraw the allegation.
Police said in their chargesheet the murder was carried out at the principal's order.
The judge simultaneously fined all the convicts 1 lakh taka (USD 1,181) each to be given to Rafi's family.
The convicts include two women, a local leader of the ruling Awami League and a member of the madrasa governing committee.
Bangladeshi law requires the death reference hearing in the High Court ahead of convict's executions. The convicts could challenge the verdict in the High Court.
The case could go up to the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Rafi succumbed to her wounds a few days later at a specialised facility in Dhaka but ahead of breathing her last she delivered a statement, saying she earned the principal's wrath as she refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him.
"The principal touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath," she said, adding that the he repeatedly touched her inappropriately in his office.
Eleven days after Rafi made the allegation sending the principal to jail, the killers lured her to the roof of the madrasa as she went to appear in her final exams and there she was then surrounded by several people who pressured her into withdrawing the case.
Rafi was taken to hospital with burns covering 80 per cent of her body.
The case was tried in a fast-track tribunal which took only 62 days for hearing ahead of reaching its decision.