Bangladeshi authorities arrested five people, including a local ruling party official, on suspicion of involvement in the alleged gang-rape of a woman who claimed she was attacked after voting for the opposition on Election Day, police said Thursday.
The woman, a mother of four, told investigators that the attack took place at night on Dec. 30, when nine men carrying sticks burst into her home in the southern Noakhali district. The suspects beat and tied up her husband before dragging her outside and taking turns in raping her, authorities said.
News of the incident drew condemnations on social media, sparked nationwide protests and led to the arrests of five people, including Ruhul Amin, a publicity secretary of the ruling Awami League’s unit in Subarnachar, a sub-district of Noakhali.
“Alhough his name was not in the first information report, we arrested Ruhul Amin following our investigation,” police Superintendent Mohamad Iliyas Sharif told BenarNews.
Police said Amin was arrested at a poultry farm early Wednesday.
Local newspapers gave conflicting details about the alleged attack, with one report saying that some of the attackers carried firearms.
In his police complaint, the woman’s husband, a rickshaw driver, accused supporters of the ruling party of involvement in the attack. He claimed that the sexual assault occurred after she voted for a local candidate of the opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP) during Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Mohamad Khalil Ullah, superintendent of the Noakhali General Hospital where the woman was admitted, told reporters that clinical evidence showed she had been raped.
On Wednesday, three officials from the National Human Rights Commission visited the hospital and took the woman’s statement.
Human rights activists, including Rokeya Kabir, commended authorities for the arrests, but urged police to provide protection for the victim and her family.
“Police should keep an eye on them, so that they remain safe afterwards,” Kabir said. “And the local public representatives should protect the family from stigmatization.”
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s secretary-general, told reporters that “only the barbarians can do such a heinous crime.”
Meanwhile, A.H.M. Khairul Anam Chowdhury, president of Noakhali Awami League, told BenarNews he “had no idea” that Ruhul Amin held a position on any of his committees.
“We won’t stand for the culprit even though he belongs to our party,” he said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement Wednesday, demanded the formation of an impartial and independent commission to investigate allegations of abuses in the Bangladeshi election, which delivered a landslide for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“The pre-election period was characterized by violence and intimidation against the opposition, attacks on opposition campaign events, and the misuse of laws to limit free speech,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. The statement by the U.S.-based rights watchdog noted the reported case of the woman’s gang-rape.
Dhaka-based NGOs and rights groups, such as the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, condemned the woman’s alleged rape and demanded justice.
Obaidul Qader Chowdhury, the Awami League’s general secretary, told reporters that the culprits in the alleged crime would “not be spared.”
“This is not acceptable,” he said. “The culprits must be punished. No one of those who are guilty will be spared.”