British Columbia

Blinded B.C. student says husband's death 'shocking'

Blinded B.C. graduate student Rumana Monzur says her husband's mysterious death in prison Monday is 'shocking,' but has not made her situation any easier.

Friends of Rumana Monzur say justice better served if Sumon had stood trial

Rumana Monzur also says her husband's death has not made her situation any easier. (CBC)

The death of a Bangladeshi man accused of gouging out the eyes of a University of British Columbia student is shrouded in murky details as the victim, his former wife, begins acknowledging the pursuit of justice may be over.

Rumana Monzur was blinded in an attack when she visited her husband in their South Asian home in Dhaka last June. Hasan Sayeed Sumon died in prison Monday where he was being held on charges of her attempted murder.

The latest twist has been "shocking news to me," she told university officials on Tuesday.

"The last six months have been very difficult for me and this news has not made my situation any easier," Monzur said in a statement released by UBC.

"My focus continues to be on my recovery and taking care of my daughter and my family."

 She declined to speak publicly on the development, saying she is "not comfortable given the lack of information."

Varying accounts about death

Media reports from Bangladesh present mixed accounts of how Sumon died.

The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper, said the man's body was found lying on a blanket in the bathroom of his prison cell. His cellmate had nothing to say about the circumstances.

A doctor who performed an autopsy did not identify any injury marks on the body, but did spot "marks of handcuffs on his wrists." A forensic laboratory will conduct further examination to ascertain the cause of death.

Online newspaper said doctors' initial assessment showed Sumon died of heart failure. But a closer look also revealed rope marks on the wrists and reddish marks on both sides of the neck.

The New Nation newspaper reported the prison inspector saying that the man had been suffering mental instability when transferred to the prison two weeks ago.

In one report, the man's brother said it's hard to believe Sumon may have died by suicide, while another quotes a family member alleging there was a conspiracy and Sumon was murdered.

"I've been reading the stories, too. It's such speculation at this point," said UBC spokeswoman Heather Amos, who met with Monzur earlier Tuesday.

Several of Monzur's friends, who were caught off-guard by the situation, had contacted Amos, asking that she field media calls.

They were among hundreds of people who turned out to a rally in support of Monzur, and against domestic violence, last June at the Vancouver Art Gallery lawns.

Supporters hoped for trial

Pany Aghili, who spoke at the rally, said Tuesday the sudden death was not an ideal outcome.

"It would have been a better scenario if the charges had been brought forward and he had been put on trial," said the executive director of Dixon Transition Society, a Burnaby, B.C.-based women's shelter.

"That would have been the best scenario as far as illuminating some light on the situation of violence against women."

She said the only silver-lining from Monzur's ordeal comes if the tragic case reminds the public women still need support towards speaking out and getting help. Whether such a death brings closure or leaves further emotional scars is different for every woman who has left an abusive situation, she said.

"I think what women seek is knowing that they are safe and knowing that they are going to be supported by the system," she said. "That when they leave an abusive relationship they know when they go out they don't have to look over their shoulder."

Doctors overseas and in Vancouver attempted surgery to restore Monzur's vision following the assault and her husband's subsequent arrest. She also suffered gaping wounds on her face and nose, which were gnawed during the attack.

There was overwhelming support for Monzur when the 33-year-old graduate student returned to Canada in July. She was joined by her young daughter, who witnessed the violence, and her parents.

Amos said Monzur is on leave for the semester as she continues her recovery, but she has nearly completed her master's thesis in political science. The woman formerly taught international relations at Dhaka University and is a Fulbright scholar.

Supporters have raised more than $86,000 to assist her recovery.