Bangladesh disallows legal maligning of rape victims’ character

DHAKA, 5 Nov 2022:

Human rights activists yesterday welcomed an amendment to the Bangladesh law that bars lawyers from questioning the character of victims in a rape case.

Following a long campaign by rights activists, Bangladesh parliament Thursday amended the 1872 British colonial era Evidence Act – which rights activists said was routinely used to discredit rape victims.

The amendment scrapped a provision that said when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it might be shown that the prosecutrix was generally of “immoral character.”

Another provision that allowed lawyers to question the character of victims during cross-examinations has been amended, saying court permission would be required before making such questioning.

“We welcome this amendment. If the new amendment can be implemented, it will make it easier for rape victims to get justice,” said Elina Khan, chairperson of the Bangladesh Human Rights Foundation.

Fauzia Moslem, the president of the rights group Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said it was just one step forward to ensuring justice for rape victims.

“We have been making this demand for a long. From that perspective, this is welcoming,” Moslem said.

“The implementation is important. There remains a question of how much we will be able to motivate people involved in the criminal justice system in implementing the law.”

Rights activists had long been demanding the scrapping of the two provisions, which they termed disgraceful for women and went against the principle of equality.

A writ petition filed by three rights groups seeking the scrapping of the two provisions remained pending with Bangladesh High Court for hearing.

Bangladesh saw a wave of protests against rape and sexual harassment of women in 2020 after a video of a woman getting assaulted and tortured by a group of men in the southern Noakhali district went viral on social media.

Following the protests, the Bangladesh government in October 2020 approved an amendment to a law incorporating the provision of the death sentence for rape.

According to the rights group Ain o Shalish Kendra, 734 women were raped in Bangladesh between January and September 2022 – 38 of them died after rape and seven rape victims committed suicide during the period.