Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal and King Denis Involvement with Knights Templar

File:José Gil de Castro isabel portugal.jpg
St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth of Aragon also known as Saint Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 – 4 July 1336) (Elisabet in Catalan, Isabel in Aragonese, Portuguese and Spanish) was queen consort of Portugal and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Saint Hood and Feast Day
Miracles were said to have followed upon her death. She was beatified in 1526 and canonized by Pope Urban VIII on 25 May 1625, and her feast was inserted in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints for celebration on 4 July. In the year 1694 Pope Innocent XII moved her feast to 8 July, so it would not conflict with the celebration of the Octave of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.  In 1955 Pope Pius XII abolished this octave. The 1962 Roman Missal changed the rank of the feast from "Double" to "Third-Class Feast". The 1969 reform of the Calendar classified the celebration as an optional "Memorial" and restored it to the date of 4 July.

Elizabeth was a descendant of one of the most powerful families in Europe: daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and Queen Constance, and maternal grand-daughter of Manfred of Hohenstauffen (son of German Emperor Frederick II), conqueror of Sicily. The date and location of her birth remain unclear, although historians have suggested Saragoza or Barcelona, between 1269 and 1271.

Her marriage to King Denis of Portugal was contracted in 1281, when she was less than ten years old, receiving the towns of Óbidos, Abrantes and Porto de Mós as part of her dowry. It was only in 1288 that the wedding was celebrated: Denis was 26 years old, while Elizabeth was 17. Denis, a poet and statesman, known as the Rei Lavrador (English: Farmer King), because he planted a large pine forest, near Leiria, to prevent soil degradation that threatened the region.

A Lack of Domestic Tranquility
Chroniclers are in accord over the delight with which her subjects greeted their enchanting new queen. She was hardly more than a child, but in her bearing they detected already virtues that boded well for the nation. Was her husband equally enchanted? It is difficult to say. Life in the Middle Ages was not conducive to domestic tranquility in a royal household. Effective government in those times of poor communications demanded that a ruler maintain contact with his subjects by touring his lands. Transportation was cumbersome, usually by mule, and a king would lodge, along with his retinue, at the residence of one of his vassals. There the king would hear lawsuits, establish laws, and deal with other administrative issues. The queen had her own house, or houses. Knowing this affords us some insight into the fact that Elizabeth had only two children by her young and virile husband, who fathered an additional seven children—one chronicler says nine—by a number of other women. Elizabeth's daughter, Constanza, was born after the couple had been married for eight years, and Alfonso, the crown prince, a year later.

While we may feel outraged at the undeserved betrayal of the young Elizabeth, she never sought the pity of those around her: There is no record of her showing jealousy or condemning her husband's behavior. Elizabeth shielded her wounds from prying eyes. A legend survives that, late one night, as the king was returning to her quarters, she sent some pages to meet him with lighted torches, and with this message: "We have come, your lordship, to light your course, for unseeing you go straying off these paths." Biographers maintain, however, that the legend jars with the character of Elizabeth. She, who never did address a word of reproach to her husband in front of witnesses, would certainly not do it through her pages.

But we ought not to suppose that Elizabeth never remonstrated in private with the man who so flagrantly broke his marriage vows. Elizabeth's natural emotions were not impaired, nor are great saints made in a vacuum of human passions. Fortunately for us, King Dinis was a gifted poet and his poetry has been preserved. We can turn to it for evidence that the "troubadour king," as Dinis is known in literary circles, was fully aware of the treasure he had in a wife who covered his sins. In one particular poem, one of 72 courtly love songs addressed to a variety of ladies, real or imaginary, we find these self-reflective lines which amount to a veritable examination of conscience:

I don't know how to justify myself to my lady,
Should God lead me to stand before her eyes;
Once I'm before her she will adjudge me
Her betrayer, and with plenty of reason.

Thoughts of Elizabeth's excellence did clearly make their way into her husband's verse. But for a substantial appreciation of her unique qualities we need to look elsewhere. A book survives from the 14th century, relating facts of the "worthy life" of the holy queen, thus attesting that centuries before she was canonized—in 1625, by Pope Urban VIII—and long before the invention of the printing press, her life, her person, and her accomplishments were held to have been extraordinary and to warrant a written record.

The Immaculate Conception
Elizabeth's Christian faith informed every aspect of her existence. She surrounded herself with a number of chaplains, and every day she recited, and sang, the Liturgy of the Hours with them. And if one of them ever misread the Latin in her presence, Elizabeth quickly corrected him, for she herself knew Latin as thoroughly as she knew the vernacular.

One can only speculate as to how much time a queen—this particular queen, at any rate—could devote to reading or studying. But it was Elizabeth who, in 1320, obtained of the bishop of Coimbra a formal proclamation establishing the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on Dec. 8th from Coimbra, the solemn observance was extended to the whole country. Considering the prolonged and bewildering medieval controversy on the subject of the Immaculate Conception, and keeping in mind that it was during Elizabeth's lifetime that the Franciscan "Subtle Doctor" Duns Scotus (1266-1308) answered the theological difficulties of this doctrine, we may conclude that Queen Elizabeth was well-informed as to major happenings in academic circles abroad. (Pope John Paul II beatified Duns Scotus on March 20th, 1993.)

While Elizabeth's mastery of languages, and singing, may be explained by the careful education she received as a young child, more difficult to explain is her remarkable understanding of engineering and architecture. A number of buildings were erected under her direct supervision—a convent to house the Poor Clare nuns, a house for herself next to the convent, a hospice for the aged poor, a hospital, an orphanage for foundlings and other needy newborns, and churches that, although dilapidated in some cases, are still standing. She drafted the sketches herself, and managed the day-to-day progress of the projects. Twentieth-century scholars have identified the buildings that date back to Elizabeth by their common architectural features, and have concluded that she developed her own style. It has been given a name, the (from Isabel) style of architecture.

Flowers And Gold Coins
Elizabeth paid regular visits to the construction sites, to clarify or correct the difficult points of her drawings. The men listened to her in rapt attention, amazed at the extent of her knowledge, that 14thcentury book says. From Elizabeth's particular involvement in the building trade, a charming legend was born.

The queen had a dream one night in which God asked her to build a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The next morning, she had one of her chaplains celebrate Mass, and while attending the Holy Sacrifice she received further clarification.

She ordered a construction crew to be assembled and brought to her.

She told them of the plan, and specified the site for the church. The workmen went to the location, and could not believe their eyes: The foundation was already poured, and the sketches for the church were waiting for them. The men went to work and, as usual, the queen paid regular visits.

One day, while Elizabeth was supervising the work, a girl walked up to her to offer an armful of flowers. The queen took them and distributed them, one by one, to each workman: "Let us see if today you will work hard and well for this pay," she quipped.

Each worker graciously accepted his flower, and reverently put it in his satchel. When the day's work was done, each man found not a flower in his satchel, but a gold coin.

Elizabeth ran out of cash before the church was completed, and was troubled. Unexpectedly, she received a visit from her husband, who told her to proceed with all due speed because he would make available from his own resources whatever she might need.

Elizabeth's biographers cannot verify the story of the gold coins, nor any other mysterious detail of this legend. It seems certain, however, that a Church of the Holy Spirit was completed, and inaugurated with great solemnity, during the reign of Dinis and Elizabeth. The royal couple created a Confraternity of the Holy Spirit at the time.

Despite Dinis' infidelity, Elizabeth knew the inner, God-fearing man. Indeed, he was the first Portuguese king to introduce the custom of general prayer, at canonic hours, in his residence, and it was on his initiative that a permanent chapel was installed in the palace where Mass could be celebrated regularly.

A Divided Household
Elizabeth remained Dinis' tender and loyal wife, and she obediently acceded to his will, even when he asked of her the utmost that any man could request of his wife: that she take into her care, and tutor, his illegitimate children. He admired her intellect, and rightly judged that no one better could be found to teach his children. He also judged rightly that Elizabeth's superior virtues would prevent her from turning her back on a call to do the heroic. Elizabeth saw God in the other, and the other encompassed her husband's illegitimate children.
But a far heavier cross awaited Elizabeth. As the children, legitimate and illegitimate, grew into adulthood, the peace of the realm disintegrated. The perpetrator was her own beloved son, Afonso, the heir. He was morbidly jealous of one of his half-brothers whom, he perceived, the father doted on, and chafed at having to wait for the throne. So Afonso led a revolt against his own father.

Civil war became imminent, several times, as Alfonso allied himself with certain elements of the Spanish kingdom of Castile, who were only too willing to help him overthrow his father. The threat was real, and it fell to Elizabeth to mediate peace between the two men closest to her heart, husband and son, each of whom led an army.

Astoundingly, the first time that she intervened to help her son escape the consequences of his rebellion, Denis exiled her to the fortified city' of Alenquer, forbidding her to leave the city walls. It must be said, in fairness to King Denis, that he had been misinformed by evil tongues and had been led to believe that Elizabeth herself had counseled Afonso to rebel. Political intrigue has always been one of the hazards of court life.
Although innocent, Elizabeth obediently accepted the confinement. But upon receiving offers of assistance from a number of noblemen, who professed outrage at the injustice she had suffered and offered to rescue her, she answered them as their queen: "My primary obligation, and the obligation of all the vassals, is to obey the commands of the king, our lord."

The Angel Of Peace
Unjust sequestration is a well-known feature of the lives of most great saints, and Elizabeth was no exception. She stayed in exile until news came that the hostilities between her husband and son had heated anew. Afonso had secured additional military help from Castile, and his father had responded by greatly reinforcing his own army. The whole country—as well as her family—was in peril, so Elizabeth did abandon then her place of exile and rode for days, to mediate peace between the two men bent on destruction.

It was a scene that, with a number of variants, was repeated over and over: agreements made, agreements broken, armies on the move, and an exhausted, heartbroken Elizabeth riding out to valiantly face the warring parties, imploring, negotiating. Her biographers have dubbed her the "Angel of Peace." When he was on his deathbed, King Dinis called Afonso to his side, and entrusted Elizabeth to his care: "Look after your mother and my lady, the queen, for she remains alone. Stand by her, as is your duty.... Think that having given you life, and for the many tears you have cost her, she is twice your mother."

In his peculiar way, Denis held his queen in the highest esteem. He named her executor of his last will and testament, in which he made provision for the payment of all his debts, "having in mind God's Judgment," and for the disposition of castles, towns, and endowments to churches. But the king's highest praise of his wife is found, perhaps, in one of his poems:

Seeing as God made you without peer
In goodness of heart and goodness of speech,
Nor is your equal anywhere to be found,
My love, my lady, I hereby tell you:
Had God desired to ordain it so,
You would have made a great king.

A Kingdom Of Justice
Dinis, one of Portugal's best-loved monarchs, died in February, 1325 at the age of 63, but not without taking leave also of his bastard children. The queen, who nursed him herself and stayed by his bedside day and night, led them to their dying father for his last blessing. Upon Dinis' death, Elizabeth removed her court dress and thereafter refused to wear anything but the habit of the Franciscan Tertiary order. She took up residence next to the convent of the Poor Clares, which she had founded and subsidized. It was then that the widowed queen founded a hospital near the convent, and named it after St. Elizabeth of Hungary. On a daily basis, Elizabeth worked in caring for the sick, often choosing for herself the most distasteful tasks.

Queen Elizabeth outlived her husband by 12 years. Mourning his death intensely, she said, "I have always beseeched our Lord to kindly spare me the bitterness of surviving the king, my lord. I have wished him a long life, for the good and well-being of the people."

Elizabeth always looked beyond herself, for she loved her subjects dearly. And she knew that they had also greatly loved her husband, who had taken radical measures to improve their lot. He had transformed agriculture, worked at increasing literacy, and, like Elizabeth, was moved by a deep need to see that justice prevailed in his kingdom. A striking feature of written accounts of Dinis' and Elizabeth's reign, which even the most casual reader of medieval histories cannot fail to notice, is the total absence of that "off with their heads" syndrome of medieval monarchic power, so prevalent elsewhere. When Dinis issued in 1309 a charter of privileges to the university he had founded, he began with a statement of intent: He officially established his university, he wrote, in order that his kingdom should be not only adorned with arms, but also armed with just and fair laws.

Elizabeth was of one mind with her husband, in matters of justice for her subjects. Recent researches have turned up five official documents issued by the Papal See at Avignon, attending to Elizabeth's written requests for the appointments of persons with law credentials to important posts. Scholars wonder how many other such documents lie still buried in archives.

Nor did she abide by the belief that rank has privileges and excuses injustices. Still preserved is an interesting letter that Elizabeth wrote to her brother, the king of Aragon, demanding in no uncertain terms that he pay a large debt in full. The amount was owed to a certain woman who, understandably, shrank at the prospect of seeking satisfaction from a king. "Know ye, my brother," starts Elizabeth, bypassing the niceties of usual greetings and proceeding directly to inform him, in harsh language, that the letter-bearer will not leave Aragon without the full amount in cash, and placing a time limit on her demand.
St. Elizabeth brooked no injustice, provided that reparation was within her means. "God made me queen so that I may serve others," was the way she used to cut short any attempts to laud her generosity.

A Wounded Leper
Some of Elizabeth's acts of charity are so sublime that one almost shies away from mentioning them, for fear of trespassing on the sacred. The following case is related in the above-mentioned 14th-century book, where it is stated that it was attested to under oath, before the bishop of Lisbon.
It was Good Friday and Queen Elizabeth, as was her custom on that day, had a number of lepers brought to her in private, through a secluded door. She used to do this because the law forbade them to approach her residence, for fear of contagion. But Elizabeth saw God in the lepers, too.
After serving them a meal, the queen washed them with her own hands, bandaged their wounds, and replaced their rags with clean clothes. Then, having filled their purses, she dismissed them. But one of those unfortunates was in such a state of deterioration that, unable to keep pace with the group, he became disoriented and ended up at the main entrance. The doorkeeper, who knew nothing of his queen's secret works of mercy, yelled at the sick man and hit him on the head with a stick.

One of the queen's ladies-in-waiting was watching from a window and reported the incident to Elizabeth, informing her that the wounded man was bleeding profusely. Elizabeth immediately took measures to have the leper removed to a secluded room, where she managed to attend to him. She washed the gash on his skull, and applied egg-white before bandaging it. When, the next day, the leper announced that he had no more pain, that the wound was closed and healed, the rumor spread that the queen performed miracles.
Doctors have commented on this episode. If St. Elizabeth's touch was not miraculous, her knowledge of medicine certainly appears to have been. She lived in an age when healing practices consisted, essentially, in astrological prognostications. And yet, now that we know about the protein and fibrinogenic components in egg-white, it can be said that, in the absence of all other aids, it is the most effective remedy for a bleeding wound.
In 1779, the Portuguese Academy of Sciences chose St. Elizabeth as its patron saint.

King Denis(her husband) Faith on Elizabeth
Elizabeth was very beautiful and very lovable. She was also very devout, and went to Mass every day. Elizabeth was a holy wife, but although her husband was fond of her at first, he soon began to cause her great suffering. Though a good ruler, he did not imitate his wife's love of prayer and other virtues. In fact, his sins of impurity gave great scandle to the people.
Later, to make matters worse, the King believed a lie told about Elizabeth and one of her pages by another page, who was jealous of his companion. In great anger the King ordered the one he believed guilty, to be sent to a lime-burner. The lime-burner was commanded to throw into his furnace the first page who came. The good page set out obediently, not knowing death was waiting for him. On his way he stopped for Mass, since he had the habit of going daily. The first Mass had begun, so he stayed for a second one. In the meantime, the King sent the wicked page to the lime-burner to find out if the other had been killed. And so it was this page who was thrown into the furnace! When the King learned what had happened, he realized that God had saved the good page, punished the liar, and proven Queen Elizabeth to be innocent.
This amazing event helped greatly to make the King live better. He apologized to his wife in front of everyone and began to have a great respect for her. In his last sickness, she never left his side, except for Mass, until he died a holy death.

An Incorruptible
Queen Elizabeth died on July 4th, 1336. She was 65 years of age, perhaps somewhat older, and had incorporated into her passage through this earth prayers, sacrifices, interventions for peace among monarchs, acts of worship, and works of mercy too numerous to mention in this brief piece. Almost three centuries after her death, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII inexplicably broke his reported vow that there would be no canonizations during his Pontificate: He canonized St. Elizabeth of Portugal on Holy Trinity Sunday, May 25th, 1625.

Little has been written in English about St. Elizabeth, yet she is a timeless role model for women everywhere. Because she moved with equal ease among powerful rulers and among the least of the least, and in passing blessed them all, because there appears to have been no task that fell outside the realm of her competence and she won over situations that would paralyze most men and women, her significance is universal.
She was buried at Coimbra, Portugal, and after her death, many miracles took place at her tomb. We ought not to forget her, and God has ensured this in the land she blessed, where her body remains incorrupt. Reposing in the Church of St. Clare at Coimbra, her elaborate coffin has been opened several times through the centuries as recently as 1912. The teams of examiners, invariably composed of doctors and Church officials, consistently reported that St. Elizabeth remains intact, as beautiful and serene as if she merely slept.

Father of peace and love,
you gave Saint Elizabeth the gift of reconciling enemies.
By the help of her prayers
give us the courage to work for peace among men,
that we may be called the sons of God.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Family and Ancestors

Alfonso II of Aragon

Peter II of Aragon

Sancha of Castile

James I of Aragon

William VIII of Montpellier

Marie of Montpellier

Eudokia Komnene

Peter III of Aragon

Béla III of Hungary

Andrew II of Hungary

Agnes of Antioch

Violant of Hungary

Peter II of Courtenay

Yolande de Courtenay

Yolanda of Flanders

Elizabeth of Aragon

Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Constance of Sicily

Manfred of Sicily

Manfred II Lanza (?)

Bianca, Countess of Lancia

Bianca Maletta (?)

Constance of Hohenstaufen

Thomas I, Count of Savoy

Amadeus IV of Savoy

Marguerite of Geneva

Beatrice of Savoy

Hugh III, Duke of Burgundy

Anne of Burgundy

Béatrice of Albon



During that time, On the other hand King Denis of Portugal (Elizabeth husband) involved with Knights Templar.


From the Order of the Temple to the Order of Christ

 Abolition of the Order of the Temple

On 30 December 1308, while the case of the Knights Templar had already been a burning issue in France over the past year, the pope ordered King Denis of Portugal to arrest the Knights Templar under his jurisdiction. A commission of enquiry was created in the country and was chaired by the Bishop of Lisbon and attended by the superior of the Franciscan Order and a jurist, Joao de Luis. 28 knights were then questioned, as well as six other witnesses. To prevent the Temple's possessions from falling into other hands, the king ordered the possessions to be confiscated in January 1310, until such time as the Church had officially reached a verdict concerning the accused order. The enquiry conducted in Portugal, though without resorting to torture, could not find any blame concerning the Temple or its members, and a provincial council held shortly after to decide on any follow-ups came to the same conclusion.

Creation of the Order of Christ

King Denis was worried about the rumours that the pope was apparently thinking of awarding all the Temple's possessions to the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers already owned several possessions on the south bank of the Tagus, and giving them the Templar holdings on the north bank of the same river would provide them with such a build-up in what was a strategic area that they would undoubtedly be capable of undermining the royal authority. After various negotiations, the king obtained the ruling in 1319 whereby the Temple's possessions would go to a new, specifically Portuguese order.

The bull of foundation Ad ea ex quibus granted by Pope John XXII on 14 March 1319 first proclaimed the creation of a new order called the "Order of the Knights of Christ" (Ordem de Cavalaria de N. S. Jesus Cristo) and established the fortress of Castro Marim as the knights' house in the south-easternmost part of the country, at the mouth of the Guadiana. Then it imposed the rule of Calatrava on the new brotherhood and appointed Dom Gil Martins as Grand Master, the previous Grand Master of the Order of Aviz. It transferred all the possessions and rights of the Knights Templar to the new militia, but placed it under the eminent authority of the Cistercian abbot of Alcobaça Monastery, in the diocese of Lisbon. The abbot was therefore entitled to visit and correct all the houses belonging to the Order of Christ. Each master of the order had to pledge his loyalty to the abbot, ultimately representing the Supreme Pontiff. Finally, should the master's position be left vacant, the bull stipulated that the new master should be someone both military and religious, and specifically professed by the new order. Unfortunately, the following century, this protective framework could not hold up against the greediness of the Portuguese sovereigns, attracted to the order's considerable wealth.

The Order of Christ - a Resurgence of the Order of the Temple

Historians believe that the Order of Christ was the main refuge for the Knights Templar that escaped the spate of arrests on 13 October 1307 in France; the new Portuguese order became the (only?) resurgence of the Order of the Temple. Most of the Knights Templar arrived in Portugal by sea, since part of the Templar fleet, that had left La Rochelle to avoid being commandeered, dropped anchor in the port of Serra d'El-Rei, a port stronghold built by Gualdim Pais, which has since disappeared. As a result, the Order of Christ inherited the Templars' knowledge in terms of construction and maritime navigation. It was used a century later by the infante Henry the Navigator, the governor of the Order of Christ, to develop his famous caravel, whose sails proudly flew the Templar cross, and later still by Christopher Columbus, who was also a Grand Master of the Order of Christ.

Bangladesh: Protect Women Against ‘Fatwa’ Violence

Despite Court Orders, Government Has Failed to Intervene

The Bangladesh government should take urgent measures to make sure that religious fatwas and traditional dispute resolution methods do not result in extrajudicial punishments, Human Rights Watch said today. The government is yet to act on repeated orders of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court, beginning in July 2010, to stop illegal punishments such as whipping, lashing, or public humiliations, said the petitioners who challenged the practice.

These private punishments significantly harm women’s and girls’ lives and health. Instead of intervening and taking active measures to prevent these abuses, the Bangladesh authorities have been mute bystanders.
Aruna Kashyap, Asia women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch
In 2009 Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), BRAC, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), and Nijera Kori, brought a public interest case. They challenged the authorities' failure to address extrajudicial punishments imposed by shalishes - traditional dispute resolution methods - in the name of fatwas, opinions that are supposed to be issued by Islamic scholars. These punishments include whipping, lashing, publicly humiliating women and girls by forcibly cutting their hair or blackening their faces, ostracizing women, girls, and families, and imposing fines. While many of these incidents go unreported, ASK has assembled news reports of at least 330 such incidents in the last 10 years.

"These private punishments significantly harm women's and girls' lives and health," said Aruna Kashyap, Asia women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of intervening and taking active measures to prevent these abuses, the Bangladesh authorities have been mute bystanders."

The issue became especially urgent when a shalish in Shariatpur district in the Dhaka division ordered 100 lashes in January 2010 for Hena Akhter, an adolescent girl, for an alleged affair, though by most accounts she had reported being sexually abused instead. She collapsed during the lashing and ultimately died. Since Akhter's death, the local media has reported at least three suicides of girls following similar punishments.

The High Court division of the Supreme Court issued its judgment in the case on July 8, 2010, criticizing the Bangladesh government for not protecting its citizens, especially women, from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Saying that the punishments contravened constitutional guarantees of the rights to life and liberty, the court directed the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible and to take preventive steps with awareness campaigns in schools, colleges, and madrasas. It instructed the Ministry of Local Government to inform all law enforcement and local government officials that extrajudicial punishments are criminal offenses.

On February 2, 2011, the High Court issued an additional order directing the government to publicize as an urgent matter, through electronic and print media, that extrajudicial punishments are unconstitutional and punishable offenses. On May 12, the Supreme Court reiterated that "[n]o punishment, including physical violence and/or mental torture in any form can he imposed or inflicted on anybody in pursuance of fatwa." The court further held that fatwas can be issued only by "properly educated persons" and clarified that even where issued, they are not binding and cannot be enforced. Commenting on the Supreme Court verdict, Sara Hossain, a lawyer involved in the Supreme Court case, said that women's rights groups were relieved to see the highest court strongly condemning extrajudicial punishments in the name of fatwas. But women's rights activists in Bangladesh remain deeply concerned that the highest court had left the door open for the issuance of fatwas and the potential threats to women's rights to equality, she said.

"Akhter's public flogging and death is a stark reminder of the Bangladesh government's failure to prevent this type of violence," said Khushi Kabir, coordinator for Nijera Kori. "The High Court has been very clear that the government must stop inhumane and illegal punishments and the government's failure to do so costs lives."

Local groups that followed the case said that during the investigation of Akhter's death, doctors falsified initial autopsy reports to say that the girl's body bore no injury marks. The High Court intervened and ordered another autopsy, which reported signs of injuries. A criminal investigation is under way against those involved in Akhter's flogging as well as the doctors who fudged the initial autopsy report.

Local activists, who routinely monitor newspapers and electronic media, have said that the government has issued no public messages against extrajudicial punishments. ASK collated news reports of at least 16 such cases between January and May 2011. While Akhter died because of her injuries, ASK has found news reports that at least three other girls committed suicide because of the public humiliation they faced.

One girl killed herself, news reports say, after a local shalish in Cox's Bazar publicly flogged her in May for allegedly having an affair with her brother's friend. Another killed herself after a local shalish in Lakhipur district in April ordered her to be isolated and ostracized to punish her for an alleged affair. In January, a local shalish blackened a woman's face with coal, forced her to wear a garland of shoes, and paraded her around the village for marrying her brother-in-law long after her husband had died. Her parents later found her dead in her house and said she had committed suicide after the incident.

"The government has pledged to uphold our laws and constitution, and part of that promise is to prevent, prosecute, and punish these criminal extrajudicial punishments," said Faustina Pereira, director of BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services. "There is no excuse for not acting."

In November 2010, Bangladesh was elected to the board of the international agency UN Women, assuming a new role in the international arena on women's rights. With this new role, Bangladesh should ramp up its efforts to protect women's rights in-country, Human Rights Watch said.

To end this kind of violence against women and girls, Human Rights Watch and Bangladesh human rights organizations ASK, BLAST, BMP, BRAC-HRLS, and Nijera Kori, said the Bangladesh government should immediately carry out the court orders and take the following measures:

• Initiate a massive awareness campaign against extrajudicial punishments in the name of fatwas. Among other measures the government should educate everyone in schools, colleges, and madrasas about the fact that punishments under the garb of fatwas are illegal and regularly publicize these messages through print and electronic media.
• Set up around-the-clock toll-free helplines that are easily accessible to poor rural women so they can report violence and seek emergency assistance.
• Improve access to women's shelters and safe homes in every district to ensure emergency protection for women if they face such dangers in their communities.
• Provide psycho-social support and legal assistance to those who have been punished by traditional shalishes, encouraging them to take action to hold those responsible to account.
• Monitor investigations and prosecutions into punishments imposed in the name of carrying out fatwas to ensure that the accused are punished under the law, and that effective reparations are available to victims and survivors.

Published in Human Rights Watch, New York, United States, July 6, 2011