President M Abdul Hamid on Tuesday promulgated an ordinance giving his assent to a proposed law prescribing death penalty for rape a day after it got cabinet nod, reports BSS.
“The President assented to the cabinet decision and issued an ordinance on the amendment to Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act),” said a Bangabhaban spokesman.
Immediately after the presidential order was signed the law ministry issued a statement saying from now on the “death penalty” instead of “lifetime rigorous imprisonment” would be the maximum punishment for rape.
The ordinance was issued a day after the cabinet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair had approved the amendment prescribing death sentence for rapists when, officials said, she particularly laid emphasis on completing rape trials within a stipulated timeframe as well.
Officials familiar with the process said under the amended law the judge could hand down life imprisonment as well alongside the capital punishment while trying the rape cases.
“After the enactment of the law introducing death penalty, we now contemplate amendment to the related provisions of the Evidence Act to prevent anyone questioning the victims personal character during the trial process,” law minister Anisul Huq told BSS.
He said for ages the rape victims were traumatised further during the trial process as the defence lawyers in most cases tried to get relief questioning their character or portraying them as prostitutes.
The law came as the country witnesses widespread street protests after a horrifying footage went on viral on the social media platforms last week where a group of men were seen stripping and attacking a woman at a village in southeastern Noakhali. The incident came days after another nationwide anger mounted following reported sexual assault of a young woman in front of her husband in northeastern Sylhet while the culprits dragged her to a college dormitory.
Rights activists fear many rape incidents remain unreported because of fears of victims harassments by rapists or their protectors while many victims prefer to keep their story secret to avoid social stigma.
“Surely it (the amended law) will be a deterrent to such notorious crimes while we simultaneously will make all-out efforts to expedite the trial process of rape cases in the relevant courts,” Huq said.