Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN) — 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. 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. Hena’s family insisted her body be exhumed. They wanted the world to know what really happened to their daughter.
Sharia: illegal but still practiced
Hena’s family hailed from rural Shariatpur, crisscrossed by murky rivers that lend waters to rice paddies and lush vegetable fields.
Hena was the youngest of five children born to Darbesh Khan, a day laborer, and his wife, Aklima Begum. They shared a hut made from corrugated tin and decaying wood and led a simple life that was suddenly marred a year ago with the return of Hena’s cousin Mahbub Khan.
Mahbub Khan came back to Shariatpur from a stint working in Malaysia. His son was Hena’s age and the two were in seventh grade together.
Khan eyed Hena and began harassing her on her way to school and back, said Hena’s father. He complained to the elders who run the village about his nephew, three times Hena’s age.
The elders admonished Mahbub Khan and ordered him to pay $1,000 in fines to Hena’s family. But Mahbub was Darbesh’s older brother’s son and Darbesh was asked to let the matter fade.
Many months later on a winter night, as Hena’s sister Alya told it, Hena was walking from her room to an outdoor toilet when Mahbub Khan gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her.