The mob came for her, according to prosecutors, because the teen had defied the protocol of her small, conservative village 100 miles outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. When the headmaster of her Islamic school touched her inappropriately without her consent, she refused to stay silent — and instead reported the assault to police.
The headmaster, Maulana Siraj Ud Doula, was taken into custody.
But Rafi’s statement, recorded on video, was leaked to the public, sparking outrage, protests and harassment of the teenager. To protect Rafi, her brother escorted her to school for two days, reported the Daily Star. On day three, he was blocked at the entrance.
“I tried to take my sister to school and tried to enter the premises, but I was stopped and wasn’t allowed to enter,” Rafi’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, told the BBC in April. “If I hadn’t been stopped, something like this wouldn’t have happened to my sister.”
Later that day, Rafi was lured to the roof of the school by a female student, reported BBC Bengali. There, a group of four or five students wearing burqas, glasses and gloves to conceal their identities demanded that Rafi retract her accusations against the headmaster. When she refused, authorities said, the group held her down and lit her on fire.
Police Bureau of Investigation chief Banaj Kumar Majumder told BBC Bengali that the mob wanted “to make it look like a suicide."
Rafi escaped their grasp, sought help and was taken to a local hospital, reported the BBC. When they could not treat her severe injuries, she was transferred to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital. On the way, she recorded a statement on her brother’s cellphone.
“The teacher touched,” she says, according to the BBC. “I will fight this crime until my last breath.”
She died April 10, and thousands of people attended her funeral.
Now, six months later, the headmaster who assaulted her and 15 others convicted of crimes related to her murder have been sentenced to death. Authorities said in court documents that Rafi’s murder was ordered by the principal.
Two female classmates, three teachers and two local leaders of the ruling Awami League party were among those charged and convicted, reported BBC.
“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict, according to Reuters.
The defendants will challenge the verdict in the High Court, their attorney, Giasuddin Nannu, told Reuters.
Executions in Bangladesh are most commonly carried out by hanging, according to a global death penalty database maintained by Cornell Law School. At the end of 2018, at least 1,500 people were under a pending death sentence in the country, which has a population of 156 million people, according to the database.
Rafi’s family welcomed the death sentences and asked that they be carried out quickly.
They still fear for their own safety and continue to mourn Rafi.
“I can’t forget her for a moment,” the girl’s mother, Shirin Akhtar, told Reuters. “I still feel the pain that she went through.”
Rafi’s death has sparked a national and global conversation about sexual assault in Bangladesh and the forces that keep victims of abuse from speaking out.
Women’s rights group Mahila Parishad has reported that 26 women were killed after being sexually assaulted, 592 were raped and 113 were gang-raped in the first six months of 2019 in Bangladesh, according to the BBC.