Uncovering ghosts in girl's death by lashing

It's encouraging to see news outlets continuing to cover the death of a 14-year-old girl who was accused of adultery and sentenced to 101 lashes.

One of the earlier stories on the death came from The Guardian, which covered the death with mostly generic words, like "religious justice," "religious edicts," and "religious clerics." The story glossed over the significance of the case and why it might matter in a country like Bangladesh.

Thankfully, CNN has followed up on the story with more specific details. Here's part of the intro from CNN's Farid Ahmed and Moni Basu:

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.

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.

The most recent news is that the doctors who carried out the autopsy are being prosecuted. The sister told CNN that the girl was harassed by her cousin, who beat and raped her. His wife dragged the girl back to their hut and beat her.

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.

The girl's body was exhumed and after doctors confirmed she died of internal bleeding, authorities arrested several people, including her cousin. The CNN story carefully explains the role of religion in the particular case and how it isn't consistent with the country's laws. Bangladesh has outlawed punishments handed down by fatwas.

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.

It's impossible to report on this case without discussing the role of religion--both in why she died and why it doesn't fit with the country's laws.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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