DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s Cabinet on Monday approved an increase in the maximum punishment in rape cases to death from life imprisonment after a series of recent sexual assaults triggered protests on streets and in social media.
Cabinet spokesman Khandaker Anwarul Islam said President Abdul Hamid is likely to issue an ordinance amending the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act because Parliament is not in session.
Details of the amendment were not immediately available, but Islam said the Cabinet agreed to a proposal that trials in rape cases be completed in a speedy manner.
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Under the current law, the maximum punishment in rape cases is life imprisonment, except for cases in which the victim dies, when capital punishment is allowed.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the president is expected to issue the ordinance on Tuesday.
A series of violent sexual attacks in recent weeks has triggered protests in the capital, Dhaka, and elsewhere.
Local human rights groups say rapes have surged in the country. Ain-o-Salish Kendra, a women’s rights group, said 889 rapes, including many gang rapes, occurred between January and August. At least 41 victims died, it said.
Rights groups say many more cases remain unreported because of fears of harassment by influential people. Bangladesh’s judicial system is painstakingly slow and cases often take years to finish.
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Protests broke out in recent days after a video of a group of men stripping and attacking a woman in a southeastern district went public through Facebook. An investigation by the country’s National Human Rights Commission found the woman in the video had been raped repeatedly and terrorized over the last year.
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In another case, a woman was dragged into a college dorm from a car where she was traveling with her husband and was gang-raped. Several members of the ruling Awami League’s student wing were arrested.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would bring those responsible to justice.