It was bad enough that the alleged rape took place in the sanctity of a mosque and that the accused man was a mullah who invoked the familiar defence that it had been consensual sex.
But the victim was only 10 years old. And there was more: The authorities said her family members openly planned to carry out an honour killing in the case – against the young girl. The mullah offered to marry his victim instead.
This past week, the awful matter became even worse. On Tuesday, local policemen removed the girl from the shelter that had given her refuge and returned her to her family, despite complaints from women’s activists that she was likely to be killed.
The case has broader repercussions. The head of the Women for Afghan Women shelter here where the girl took refuge, Dr. Hassina Sarwari, was at one point driven into hiding by death threats from the girl’s family and other mullahs, who sought to play down the crime by arguing the girl was much older than 10. One militia commander sent Sarwari threatening texts and an ultimatum to return the girl to her family. The doctor said she now wanted to flee Afghanistan.
The head of the women’s affairs office in Kunduz, Nederah Geyah, who actively campaigned to have the young girl protected from her family and the mullah prosecuted, resigned May 21 and moved to another part of the country.
The case itself would just be an aberrant atrocity, except that the resulting support for the mullah, and for the girl’s family and its honour killing plans, have become emblematic of a broader failure to help Afghan women who have been victims of violence.
The result challenges hopes that Western aid and encouragement can make lasting headway on behalf of Afghan women, particularly in remote parts of the country where traditional customs are still stronger than modern law. Here, Taliban insurgents and pro-government elements often make common cause in their hatred of progress in women’s rights, most of which has come about with international funding and pressure.
Most of the anger in Kunduz has been focused not on the mullah but on the women’s activists and the shelter, which is one of seven operated across Afghanistan by Women for Afghan Women, an Afghan-run charity that is heavily dependent on American aid, from both government and private donors.
“People know this office as the Americans’ office,” Sarwari said. “They all think the shelter is an American shelter. There isn’t a single American here.”
“WAW is not American-run,” said Manizha Naderi, its executive director. “Every single staff member is an Afghan. They are from the communities we work in. Our only concern is to make sure women and girls are protected and that they get justice.”
As the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has accelerated, rights advocates are seeing a sharp difference in their funding.
“We already see the signs of losing the support of the international community,” Geyah said in an interview before she resigned. “No one’s funding new civil society programs anymore. None of the foreigners show up anymore; they’re all in hiding. And I think what gains we have achieved the last 13 years, we’re slowly losing all of them.”
The accused mullah, Mohammad Amin, was arrested and confessed to having sex with the girl after Koran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1, but he claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she responded to his advances.
The girl’s own testimony, and medical evidence, supported a rape so violent that it caused a fistula, or a break in the wall between the vagina and rectum, according to the police and the official bill of indictment. She bled so profusely after the attack that she was at one point in danger of losing her life because of a delay in getting medical care.
After the two women’s officials began speaking out about the case, they started receiving threatening calls from mullahs – some of them Taliban, others on the government side – and from arbakai, or pro-government militiamen. One of their claims was that the girl was actually 17, and thus of marriageable age, not 10.
Photographs of the girl that Sarwari took in the hospital clearly show a pre-pubescent child, and the doctor said the girl weighed only 40 pounds. Few Afghans have birth records, and many do not know their precise ages. But the girl’s mother said she was 10, and a forensic examination in the hospital agreed, saying she had not yet started menstruating or developing secondary sexual characteristics.
In the photographs, which Sarwari displayed on her laptop computer recently, the girl has alabaster features and inky black hair cut in a pageboy style. She lay in her hospital bed under a quilted blanket with cartoon characters on it.
Geyah said she showed photos of the girl to government officials and prosecutors to prove that she was much too young to have consented. Sarwari said, “We wanted to give her a face, to make her real to them.” Geyah said: “I went to the hospital when they brought her there. I was sitting next to her bed when I overheard her mother and aunt saying that her father was under tremendous pressure by the villagers to kill the girl because she had brought shame to them.”
Honour killings in rape cases are common in Afghanistan, and are often more important to the victim’s family than vengeance against the attacker. Human rights groups say about 150 honour killings a year come to light, and many more probably go unreported.
When Sarwari, who is a pediatrician, arrived to pick up the girl at the hospital, a crowd of village elders from Alti Gumbad, the girl’s home village on the outskirts of the city of Kunduz, were gathered outside the hospital; the girl’s brothers, father and uncle were among them. Inside, Sarwari encountered the girl’s aunt, who told her she had been ordered by her husband to sneak the girl out of the hospital and deliver her to the male relatives outside.
“She said they wanted to take her and kill her, and dump her in the river,” Sarwari said.
Efforts to reach the girl’s relatives by telephone were unsuccessful, and insurgent activity around Alti Gumbad made the village too dangerous for journalists to visit.
“The girl’s family gave us a guarantee that they would not harm her,” said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, head of the Kunduz police criminal investigation division. “We would not hand her back unless we were sure.”
In the hospital room, the doctor found the girl’s mother holding her child’s hand, and both were weeping. “My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now,” Sarwari quoted the mother as saying. “We will make you a bed of dust and soil. We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe.”
Even mothers here often believe that there is no choice but to kill rape victims, who are seen as unmarriageable and therefore a lifelong burden to their families, as well as a constant reminder of dishonor.
“Their men feel they have to wash their shame with blood,” Sarwari said.
The doctor took the girl away to the shelter. Afterward, Sarwari and several women’s affairs officials were threatened by the girl’s family and by other mullahs.
“They call me and curse me, and threaten to kill me and my family, and say they know where I live,” Sarwari said. “They say, once your American husbands leave Afghanistan, we will do what we want to you.” (Her husband is an Afghan doctor and war veteran.)
Sarwari has accused prosecutors and religious officials of siding with the accused rapist and ignoring the child’s plight.
“There are a lot of powerful people behind the mullah,” Sarwari said. The girl’s family knows they cannot do anything to Amin, she said, but “the girl is easy. They can get to her; she’s their daughter.” She said she feared the girl would either be killed, or forced to recant her accusations against the mullah.
Women for Afghan Women arranged for the girl to get medical treatment, and after she healed, she was returned to the shelter in Kunduz, about two weeks ago, until the police returned her to her family last Tuesday. Those caring for the girl said she had been terribly homesick and wanted to return to her family, but no one had the heart to tell her they had been conspiring to kill her.
Oh, it’s ok guys, he didn’t know raping kids was a crime. What a relief.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.
During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.
Yet according to documents released Monday by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.
In a 1984 document, for example, Carlson wrote to the then archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John R. Roach, about one victim of sexual abuse and mentioned that the statute of limitations for filing a claim would not expire for more than two years. He also wrote that the parents of the victim were considering reporting the incident to the police.
In a statement, Gabe Jones, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said “while not being able to recall his knowledge of the law exactly as it was many decades ago, the archbishop did make clear that he knows child sex abuse is a crime today.”
“The question does not address the archbishop’s moral stance on the sin of pedophilia, which has been that it is a most egregious offense,” Jones said.
Anderson took Carlson’s deposition as part of a sexual abuse lawsuit in Minnesota involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, Minn.
The plaintiff in the case, only identified as “Doe 1,” claims to have been abused in the 1970s by the Rev. Thomas Adamson at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park, Minn.
Later in the deposition, when asked about an incident of alleged sexual abuse of a minor by another priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Rev. Jerome Kern, Anderson asks Carlson:
“But you knew a priest touching the genitals of a kid to be a crime, did you not?,” referring to what a 1987 church memo said about the alleged incident.
“Yes,” Carlson replied.
Carlson went on to admit that he never personally reported any incidents of sex abuse to the police, though he encouraged parents to at least once.
Carlson also said that even in 1996 he did not know that pedophilia was a disorder that couldn’t be cured.
“I did not know that, but as a pastor, I was becoming increasingly concerned,” Carlson said.
With regard to the history of sexual abuse in the church, Carlson seemed to suggest he did the best he could at the time.
“I think in everything we do, once we’ve experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better,” Carlson said. “I think we did a pretty good job.
“Obviously, based on some 25 years later, I would do it differently.”
Anderson then asked, “Don’t you think you should have done it differently then?”
“I did what I did,” Carlson replied.
“I think counselors made mistakes. I think people in general made mistakes. I think the archdiocese made mistakes,” Carlson went on to say.
“I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn’t. I don’t think we fully understood. I don’t think public school administrators understood it. I don’t think we realized it was the serious problem it is.”
But over and over, throughout the deposition, Carlson claimed to not remember answers to questions posed by Anderson — for a total of 193 times.
Anderson asked Carlson if there was any physical condition or illness that was impeding his memory.
“I can’t make either a psychological or a physical diagnosis, other than to say I have had seven cancer surgeries. Each time, I received some kind of chemical to put me out for that. If that’s impeded my memory or not, I have no idea,” Carlson answered. “My concern is that what I say to you would be accurate.”
Anderson has also taken Carlson’s deposition for a priest sexual abuse case scheduled for trial July 7 in St. Louis. That deposition is under seal.
According to Anderson, Carlson was involved in handling sexual abuse cases in Minnesota for 15 years.
Evidence of the castrations has emerged amid controversy that it was not included in the findings of an official investigation into sexual abuse within the church last year.
The NRC Handelsblad newspaper identified Henk Heithuis who was castrated in 1956, while a minor, after reporting priests to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home.
Joep Dohmen, the investigative journalist who uncovered the Heithuis case, also found evidence of at least nine other castrations. “These cases are anonymous and can no longer be traced,” he said. “There will be many more. But the question is whether those boys, now old men, will want to tell their story.”
Mr Heithuis died in a car crash in 1958, two years after being castrated at the age of 20, while under the age of majority, which was then 21.
In 1956 he had accused Catholic clergy of sexually abusing him in his Church run care home.
Two clergymen were convicted of abuse but Mr Heithuis, a victim, was nonetheless transferred by police to a Catholic psychiatric hospital before being admitted to the St. Joseph Hospital in Veghel later that year.
There, court papers confirm, he was castrated “at his own request”, despite no submission of his written consent. Sources told Mr Dohmen that the surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse.
Cornelius Rogge, 79, a well-known Dutch sculptor whose family knew Mr Heithuis in the 1950s, reported the castration to an official inquiry into abuse within the Catholic Church. But his evidence was ignored.
“We once asked Henk to drop his pants when the women were gone. He did that. He was maimed totally. It was a huge shock,” he said.
Last December, an official investigation by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister, received 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses in the period since 1945.
The Deetman inquiry received a report of the Heithuis case from Mr Rogge but it was not followed up because “there were few leads for further research”.
Evidence emerged on Monday that government inspectors were aware that minors were being castrated while in Catholic-run psychiatric institutions.
Minutes of meetings held in the 1950s show that inspectors were present when castrations were discussed. The documents also reveal that the Catholic staff did not think parents needed to be involved.
There are also allegations that Vic Marijnen, a former Dutch Prime Minister, who died in 1975, was linked to the case.
In 1956, Mr Marijnen was the chairman of the Gelderland children’s home where Mr Heithuis and other children were abused. He intervened to have prison sentences dropped against several priests convicted of abusing children.
Dutch MPs will today call for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.
“I am shocked that boys were being castrated in the 1950s,” said Khadija Arib, a Labour MP. “I want an independent investigation. We must find out how many cases there were, who knew about it and why the government did not act.”
Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) — A 40-year-old mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after she was accused of being a witch, police said Saturday.
Dhegani Mahato was attacked and set on fire by family members and others after a shaman allegedly accused her of casting a spell to make one of her relatives sick, Police Officer Hira Mani Baral said.
The attack occurred Friday in Bagauda in Chitwan district, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, Baral said by telephone.
Police arrested 10 people, including two shamans, five women and an 8-year-old boy, in connection with the burning.
“Those arrested have confessed to their crime and will be charged with murder,” Baral said.
Mahato had just finished cleaning a cowshed early in the morning when she was attacked, Baral said.
She was beaten with sticks and rocks before being doused with kerosene and set afire, an attack witnessed by her 9-year-old daughter, according to the local police report.
Neighbors told police they were alerted to the attack but by then it was too late to save her.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai appealed to the people not to heed to shamans and faith healers.
The government announced 1 million Nepalese rupees (about $14,000) in compensation for Mahato’s two children.
It’s ok everybody! He didn’t know it was hurting anyone… CRISIS AVERTED!
A German Catholic priest has admitted 280 counts of sexual abuse involving three boys in the past decade, saying he did not think he was doing harm.
Named only as Andreas L, the priest told a court in Braunschweig that he had first abused the nine-year-old son of a widowed woman parishioner.
After being banned by his diocese from making further contact with the boy, he abused two brothers, aged nine and 13.
Thousands of Germans have left the Church over revelations of abuse.
About 180,000 renounced their Catholicism in 2010, up 40% from the previous year, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.
Pope Benedict XVI, a German by birth, briefly met victims of sexual abuse by priests when he visited his native land in September, expressing “deep compassion and regret” at their suffering.
The priest on trial in Braunschweig faces a minimum prison sentence of between six and six and a half years.
He was arrested during the summer, after the mother of his earlier victim reported him to the authorities.
She acted after her son, now aged 17, revealed to her the abuse he had undergone for two years.
Sexual assaults were made on the three boys in various settings: at the priest’s house, on skiing holidays, in a parental home, on a trip to Disneyland Paris and at a church shortly before Mass.
The priest, who covered his face with a ring binder as he went into court on Thursday, said that while working in Braunschweig in 2004, he had begun a close relationship with the widow.
When Fr Andreas was moved to Salzgitter, her son often spent weekends with him, and the two would go off on short trips.
He would give the boy presents such as a camera and a mobile phone.
Abuse would often occur three times a weekend.
The priest said it had not been his intention to get close to the boy sexually, and that it had never occurred to him that he was doing harm.
When the mother began to suspect her son’s relations with the priest were inappropriately close, she approached the diocese of Hildesheim, the priest’s employer, which forbade further contact with the boy.
The abuse of the two brothers then began under similar circumstances, the court heard.
After contact with these victims was also forbidden, the priest approached his first victim again, writing him a letter.
It was then that the truth about the abuse emerged.
“It was never my impression that the children did not consent,” the priest was quoted as saying at the trial.
When asked in court if he was a paedophile, he replied, according to local newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung: “It would be wrong to say No but to say Yes would also fall short of the truth.”
When a prosecutor asked him in court if he thought a “father would do this to his children”, he was silent.
About 2,800 pornographic images were found on the priest’s computer, including several of his victims.
Correspondents say members of the public who were in the courtroom watched the trial with faces rigid from shock.
They included parishioners from St Joseph’s Church in Salzgitter, where Fr Andreas had once been a respected priest, according to Germany’s Spiegel magazine.
I am shocked…. shocked I say!
(GENOA) — The latest sex-abuse case to rock the Catholic Church is unfolding in the archdiocese of an influential Italian Cardinal who has been working with Pope Benedict XVI on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests.
Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues,” he allegedly said. Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.
Bagnasco said that when he met the Pope this weekend, he “asked for a particular blessing for my archdiocese” in light of the alleged crimes, adding that “like every father toward a son [feels] great pain in seeing a priest who is not faithful to his vocation.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi praised Bagnasco’s handling of the Sastri Ponente case, lauding its “timeliness and competence.” On Saturday, May 14, the Cardinal visited the Santo Spirito church, where Seppia was the parish priest.
According to investigators, Seppia told a friend — a former seminarian and barman who is currently under investigation — that the town’s malls were the best places to entice minors. In tapped phone conversations the two cursed and swore against God. The priest is charged with having attempted to kiss and touch an underage altar boy and of having exchanged cocaine for sexual intercourse with boys over 18.
Seppia’s defense lawyers are expected to argue that those conversations — monitored since Oct. 20, 2010 — were just words, sex games that were played by adults. It was just a game even when he claimed to have “kissed on the mouth” a 15-year-old altar boy, according to the defense.
On Monday, May 16, during formal questioning by Genoa’s investigating magistrate Annalisa Giacalone, Seppia chose not to respond. The magistrate decided to keep him in custody to avoid a risk of relapse or tampering with evidence. Defense attorney Paolo Bonanni said the defense wants to evaluate all the charges, reserving the right to respond to public prosecutor Stefano Puppo in the coming days.
Questioned by the investigators, the altar boy reportedly confirmed the attempted kiss. Another male minor who, according to the investigators, was stalked with messages and pressing invitations, will be questioned soon. Psychologists are helping Carabinieri police officers obtain testimony from the alleged victims. “The boys are ashamed to talk and to admit what happened,” says one of the investigators. The evidence amounts to at least 50 messages and phone calls. In the tapped phone conversations, the drug dealer contacted the boys and gave their phone numbers to the priest, who paid them with cocaine or 50 euros each time for sexual intercourse.
“[The investigators] made us listen to that man saying terrifying things about our children. Things so terrible that I cannot repeat them,” a father of one of the boys said.
Investigators are also examining three confiscated computers: the priest allegedly looked for partners via chat as well.
Seppia is currently being kept in a confinement cell in a Genoa prison. He met the jail’s priest and psychologist. “He has read the newspapers, and he is pained by his parishioners’ comments,” says his lawyer. The investigation is ongoing.
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Twelve people were killed Friday in an attack on a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan that followed a demonstration against the reported burning last month of a Quran in Florida, authorities said.
The fatalities comprised seven U.N. workers and five demonstrators, officials said.
Another 24 people were wounded, said Abdul Rauof Taj, security director of Balkh province.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the police in Mazar-e-Sharif, told reporters that a number of suspects “who might be the main organizers” had been arrested.
U.N. Peacekeeping Director Alain Le Roy said the seven U.N. fatalities were international staffers — three civilians and four international security guards. No Afghan U.N. staff members were among the dead, he said.
“I understand there were hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators. Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building.”
He said the security guards tried their best to halt the demonstrators’ advance, but were overwhelmed.
Le Roy said it was not clear that the United Nations was the target. “It happened to be the U.N. because the U.N. is on the ground.”
Five demonstrators were killed in the violence; one person’s throat was cut, he said.
A U.N .source said the dead included four Nepalese security guards as well as U.N. workers from Norway, Sweden and Romania.
The U.N. Security Council met Friday and issued a statement condemning the attack, which occurred at the operations center of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and calling on the Afghan government to investigate.
Haji Sakhi Mohammad, a businessman in Mazar-e-Sharif, said that the incident began after Friday prayers, when many people joined a protest against the burning of the Quran. People calling “Death to America” marched to the U.N. compound and broke in, he said. At that, gunfire broke out and “I saw protesters shot to death.”
A student in Mazar-e-Sharif said he and his friends joined the protesters, who numbered in the hundreds. “When we reached the UNAMA office, we came under gunfire by Afghan security guards. Protesters became angry and stormed the building.”
The student said some of the protesters found several loaded AK-47s and used them to kill security guards and other people inside the building.
The attack followed a demonstration against the reported burning of a Quran by Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained international attention last year when he announced that he was planning to burn a Quran, the U.N. source with knowledge of events said.
Jones is the pastor of the 60-member Dove World Outreach Center church near Gainesville. Last year, after an outcry followed his announcement of plans to burn a Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he canceled them. Last month, however, he reportedly did burn Islam’s holy book.
The church says on its website that it planned to put the Quran on trial on March 20, and, “if found guilty of causing murder, rape and terrorism, it will be executed!” Another post on the website, which uses an alternative spelling for the book, says “the Koran was found guilty” during the mock trial and “a copy was burned inside the building.”
On Friday, Jones said in an e-mailed statement that the attack in Afghanistan shows that “the time has come to hold Islam accountable.”
“We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, said the attackers had used the protests against the burning “as a cover for this violence.”
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called the attacks “an act against Islam and Afghan values.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the victims were only trying to help the Afghan people.
“In targeting them, the attackers have demonstrated an appalling disregard for what the U.N. and the entire international community are trying to do for the benefit of all Afghans,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also condemned the attack. “We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said he would not speculate on the motivation behind the attack, but added that it was “in no way justified, regardless of what the motivation was.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations also released a statement condemning the attack. “Nothing can justify or excuse this attack,” said the group, which describes itself as America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
Fuck everything about this.
Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN) — Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl.
Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public.
Hena dropped after 70.
Bloodied and bruised, she was taken to hospital, where she died a week later.
Amazingly, an initial autopsy report cited no injuries and deemed her death a suicide. Hena’s family insisted her body be exhumed. They wanted the world to know what really happened to their daughter.
Hena’s family hailed from rural Shariatpur, crisscrossed by murky rivers that lend waters to rice paddies and lush vegetable fields.
Hena was the youngest of five children born to Darbesh Khan, a day laborer, and his wife, Aklima Begum. They shared a hut made from corrugated tin and decaying wood and led a simple life that was suddenly marred a year ago with the return of Hena’s cousin Mahbub Khan.
Mahbub Khan came back to Shariatpur from a stint working in Malaysia. His son was Hena’s age and the two were in seventh grade together.
Khan eyed Hena and began harassing her on her way to school and back, said Hena’s father. He complained to the elders who run the village about his nephew, three times Hena’s age.
The elders admonished Mahbub Khan and ordered him to pay $1,000 in fines to Hena’s family. But Mahbub was Darbesh’s older brother’s son and Darbesh was asked to let the matter fade.
Many months later on a winter night, as Hena’s sister Alya told it, Hena was walking from her room to an outdoor toilet when Mahbub Khan gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her.
Hena struggled to escape, Alya told CNN. Mahbub Khan’s wife heard Hena’s muffled screams and when she found Hena with her husband, she dragged the teenage girl back to her hut, beat her and trampled her on the floor.
The next day, the village elders met to discuss the case at Mahbub Khan’s house, Alya said. The imam pronounced his fatwa. Khan and Hena were found guilty of an illicit relationship. Her punishment under sharia or Islamic law was 101 lashes; his 201.
Mahbub Khan managed to escape after the first few lashes.
Darbesh Khan and Aklima Begum had no choice but to mind the imam’s order. They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.
“What happened to Hena is unfortunate and we all have to be ashamed that we couldn’t save her life,” said Sultana Kamal, who heads the rights organization Ain o Shalish Kendro.
Bangladesh is considered a democratic and moderate Muslim country, and national law forbids the practice of sharia. But activist and journalist Shoaib Choudhury, who documents such cases, said sharia is still very much in use in villages and towns aided by the lack of education and strong judicial systems.
The Supreme Court also outlawed fatwas a decade ago, but human rights monitors have documented more than 500 cases of women in those 10 years who were punished through a religious ruling. And few who have issued such rulings have been charged.
Last month, the court asked the government to explain what it had done to stop extrajudicial penalty based on fatwa. It ordered the dissemination of information to all mosques and madrassas, or religious schools, that sharia is illegal in Bangladesh.
“The government needs to enact a specific law to deal with such perpetrators responsible for extrajudicial penalty in the name of Islam,” Kamal told CNN.
The United Nations estimates that almost half of Bangladeshi women suffer from domestic violence and many also commonly endure rape, beatings, acid attacks and even death because of the country’s entrenched patriarchal system.
Hena might have quietly become another one of those statistics had it not been for the outcry and media attention that followed her death on January 31.
Monday, the doctors responsible for Hena’s first autopsy faced prosecution for what a court called a “false post-mortem report to hide the real cause of Hena’s death.”
Public outrage sparked by that autopsy report prompted the high court to order the exhumation of Hena’s body in February. A second autopsy performed at Dhaka Medical College Hospital revealed Hena had died of internal bleeding and her body bore the marks of severe injuries.
Police are now conducting an investigation and have arrested several people, including Mahbub Khan, in connection with Hena’s death.
“I’ve nothing to demand but justice,” said Darbesh Khan, leading a reporter to the place where his daughter was abducted the night she was raped.
He stood in silence and took a deep breath. She wasn’t even old enough to be married, he said, testament to Hena’s tenderness in a part of the world where many girls are married before adulthood. “She was so small.”
Hena’s mother, Aklima, stared vacantly as she spoke of her daughter’s last hours. She could barely get out her words. “She was innocent,” Aklima said, recalling Hena’s last words.
Police were guarding Hena’s family earlier this month. Darbesh and Aklima feared reprisal for having spoken out against the imam and the village elders.
They had meted out the most severe punishment for their youngest daughter. They could put nothing past them.