Last July, Bangladesh's High Court declared fatwas, a ruling or legal opinion given by an Islamic religious leader, illegal. Investigations and news reports of fatwas invoking violence against women led human rights organizations to submit petitions to the court, which then took action.

Yet the practice is still used in Bangladesh, particularly in rural villages, and not always documented. The first reported case of fatwa since the ruling occurred last November when 40-year-old Sufia Begum was brutally caned for an alleged affair. Although doctors suggested she be taken to another hospital that could better tend to her, her family claimed they could not afford to move her. Begum died in December from her injuries.

Violence against women, such as sexual assault, is a global problem; April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S. Bangladesh is just one country where the problem is spelled out on the international scene.

On January 31, 14-year-old Hena Akhter died after a fatwa ordered her to receive 101 lashes. Her crime was that she allegedly had an affair with a married man; her family says the man, a 40-year-old cousin, raped her. The cousin was sentenced to 201 lashes, which he did not undertake.

Bangladeshi authorities condemned Akhter's fatwa, which occurred over 50 miles away from the capital, Dhaka. "This is against the rules of Islam," said Haji Abdul Wahab Bepari, chairman of the Naria sub-district. "We don't have these strict Shari'ah laws in our country. The villagers should have stopped this."

Authorities were further outraged when it appeared that the fatwa was deliberately hidden. Police officers have been investigated for their report; now, four doctors are facing charges of hiding the cause of Akhter's ...

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