A second day of protests rocked Bangladesh as people took to the streets Tuesday to demand justice for sexual assault after a video posted online on Sunday showed a group of men stripping, beating and raping a woman with an object in southern Noakhali district.
In the video of the brutal 30-minute attack, which was filmed by one of the perpetrators early last month, the woman can be seen being kicked and stomped on as she crawls naked on the floor while begging to be left alone, according to a BenarNews journalist who viewed the footage.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told a press briefing on Tuesday that police had arrested six people accused of the Noakhali crime since Sunday.
Still, hundreds of protestors in Dhaka marched towards the prime minister’s office on Tuesday demanding Khan’s resignation for his failure to stop rising crimes against women. Protestors and police scuffled, with each side accusing the other of provoking violence.
“Police attacked us unprovoked. At least 10 people from the anti-rape rally have been injured, as police beat us indiscriminately,” Anik Roy general secretary of Bangladesh Students Union, told BenarNews.
In a statement released Tuesday, Amnesty International said the video contained “truly disturbing footage” as the human rights watchdog group demanded that Bangladeshi authorities ensure swift justice to the victim and urgently reform the judicial system.
“There can be no excuses here – the Bangladeshi authorities must immediately launch a thorough and impartial investigation and bring those responsible for this vicious attack to justice through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty,” Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Before it was taken down on Monday after a court order, the Noakhali video was widely viewed on social media, renewing outrage in a country already reeling from the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl late last month in Sylhet, a northern city. During the last week, police arrested eight members of the student wing of the ruling Awami League party as suspects in the crime and charged them with rape.
According to one opposition leader, the authorities consistently fail to enforce the law, which then makes women fearful of reporting rapes and sexual assault.
“The local authorities in Noakhali had no clue about the incident for 32 days because the victim didn’t have the courage to file a complaint with the police,” said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, senior joint secretary general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, referring to the incident, which police said took place on Sept. 2.
“How will citizens live in such a country?”
‘Urgent reform is needed’
Local activists and rights groups say violence against women is increasing in Bangladesh.
As many as 975 women were raped – including 208 gang rapes – between January and September this year, according to Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), a human rights organization in Bangladesh, which said it complied its information based on newspaper reports.
By comparison, an ASK annual report published in December said there were 1,413 incidents of rape in all of 2019, local media reports said, adding this was double the 2018 number.
Rights groups and Amnesty International faulted the criminal justice system for the impunity enjoyed by those who commit sexual assault. In the vast majority of these cases, the justice system fails to hold the perpetrators responsible, they said.
“The persistent failure to protect victims and witnesses is also a major source of concern, with women fearing stigmatization and not feeling safe reporting the crimes committed against them,” Amnesty International said.
“Women in Bangladesh are being failed by a criminal justice system that puts them at greater risk,” Amnesty’s Zakaria said.
The Noakhali video’s footage “demonstrates the shocking violence that Bangladeshi women are routinely being subjected to,” he said.
“Urgent reform is needed to strengthen how these cases are investigated, to support and protect victims and witnesses, and to speed up the painfully slow trial process.”
One group also blamed religious fundamentalism for the rise in crimes against women.
“Delay in delivery of justice in the cases is a main problem,” Maleka Begum, general secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (the Women’s Council of Bangladesh), told BenarNews.
“Anti-women politics and religious dogma, which want to keep women confined or veiled, has flourished. This is another major reason for the increase in assaults on women.”
The home minister on Tuesday defended law enforcement agencies.
“Police have arrested all the accused in the case in Sylhet, while six accused in the Noakhali incident which showed extreme barbarism, were also arrested,” Khan said.
“There is no negligence of law enforcing agencies as they acted promptly and strongly. All the criminals will surely get the maximum punishment as per the law,” the minister added.
Police in Noakhali also said they had acted promptly after seeing the video posted online.
“After the video was posted on Sunday, police rescued the victim who lodged two cases, one under Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act  and the other under Pornography Control Act, on Sunday evening,” Alamgir Hossain, police chief of Noakhali district, told journalists.
However, Amnesty International cited 2001-July 2020 data from the government’s One-Stop Crisis Center, between 2001 and July 2020, which shows that only 3.56 percent of cases filed under the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 Act have resulted in a court judgment and only 0.37 percent of cases have ended with convictions.
The rights group also said that Naripokkho, a local women’s rights organization, had examined the incidents of reported rape cases in six districts between 2011 and 2018 and found that out of 4,372 cases, only five people were convicted.