Global: The spawning pandemic of women murdered with impunity in the name of honour Print E-mail

 

 London ~ Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The crimewave that shames the world

It's one of the last great taboos: the murder of at least 20,000 women a year in the name of 'honour'. Nor is the problem confined to the Middle East: the contagion is spreading rapidly
By Robert Fisk

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the "honour" of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women's groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations' latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.

A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for "honour" and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the "honour" (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women's groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for "dishonouring" their families is increasing by the year.

Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds "honour" killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.

It is difficult to remain unemotional at the vast and detailed catalogue of these crimes. How should one react to a man – this has happened in both Jordan and Egypt – who rapes his own daughter and then, when she becomes pregnant, kills her to save the "honour" of his family? Or the Turkish father and grandfather of a 16-year-old girl, Medine Mehmi, in the province of Adiyaman, who was buried alive beneath a chicken coop in February for "befriending boys"? Her body was found 40 days later, in a sitting position and with her hands tied.

Or Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, 13, who in Somalia in 2008, in front of a thousand people, was dragged to a hole in the ground – all the while screaming, "I'm not going – don't kill me" – then buried up to her neck and stoned by 50 men for adultery? After 10 minutes, she was dug up, found to be still alive and put back in the hole for further stoning. Her crime? She had been raped by three men and, fatally, her family decided to report the facts to the Al-Shabab militia that runs Kismayo. Or the Al-Shabab Islamic "judge" in the same country who announced the 2009 stoning to death of a woman – the second of its kind the same year – for having an affair? Her boyfriend received a mere 100 lashes.

Or the young woman found in a drainage ditch near Daharki in Pakistan, "honour" killed by her family as she gave birth to her second child, her nose, ears and lips chopped off before being axed to death, her first infant lying dead among her clothes, her newborn's torso still in her womb, its head already emerging from her body? She was badly decomposed; the local police were asked to bury her. Women carried the three to a grave, but a Muslim cleric refused to say prayers for her because it was "irreligious" to participate in the namaz-e-janaza prayers for "a cursed woman and her illegitimate children".

So terrible are the details of these "honour" killings, and so many are the women who have been slaughtered, that the story of each one might turn horror into banality. But lest these acts – and the names of the victims, when we are able to discover them – be forgotten, here are the sufferings of a mere handful of women over the past decade, selected at random, country by country, crime after crime.

Last March, Munawar Gul shot and killed his 20-year-old sister, Saanga, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, along with the man he suspected was having "illicit relations" with her, Aslam Khan.

In August of 2008, five women were buried alive for "honour crimes" in Baluchistan by armed tribesmen; three of them – Hameeda, Raheema and Fauzia – were teenagers who, after being beaten and shot, were thrown still alive into a ditch where they were covered with stones and earth. When the two older women, aged 45 and 38, protested, they suffered the same fate. The three younger women had tried to choose their own husbands. In the Pakistani parliament, the MP Israrullah Zehri referred to the murders as part of a "centuries-old tradition" which he would "continue to defend".

In December 2003, a 23-year-old woman in Multan, identified only as Afsheen, was murdered by her father because, after an unhappy arranged marriage, she ran off with a man called Hassan who was from a rival, feuding tribe. Her family was educated – they included civil servants, engineers and lawyers. "I gave her sleeping pills in a cup of tea and then strangled her with a dapatta [a long scarf, part of a woman's traditional dress]," her father confessed. He told the police: "Honour is the only thing a man has. I can still hear her screams, she was my favourite daughter. I want to destroy my hands and end my life." The family had found Afsheen with Hassan in Rawalpindi and promised she would not be harmed if she returned home. They were lying.

Zakir Hussain Shah slit the throat of his daughter Sabiha, 18, at Bara Kau in June 2002 because she had "dishonoured" her family. But under Pakistan's notorious qisas law, heirs have powers to pardon a murderer. In this case, Sabiha's mother and brother "pardoned" the father and he was freed. When a man killed his four sisters in Mardan in the same year, because they wanted a share of his inheritance, his mother "pardoned" him under the same law. In Sarghoda around the same time, a man opened fire on female members of his family, killing two of his daughters. Yet again, his wife – and several other daughters wounded by him – "pardoned" the murderer because they were his heirs.

Outrageously, rape is also used as a punishment for "honour" crimes. In Meerwala village in the Punjab in 2002, a tribal "jury" claimed that an 11-year-old boy from the Gujar tribe, Abdul Shakoor, had been walking unchaperoned with a 30-year-old woman from the Mastoi tribe, which "dishonoured" the Mastois. The tribal elders decided that to "return" honour to the group, the boy's 18-year-old sister, Mukhtaran Bibi, should be gang-raped. Her father, warned that all the female members of his family would be raped if he did not bring Mukhtar to them, dutifully brought his daughter to this unholy "jury". Four men, including one of the "jury", immediately dragged the girl to a hut and raped her while up to a hundred men laughed and cheered outside. She was then forced to walk naked through the village to her home. It took a week before the police even registered the crime – as a "complaint".

Acid attacks also play their part in "honour" crime punishments. The Independent itself gave wide coverage in 2001 to a Karachi man called Bilal Khar who poured acid over his wife Fakhra Yunus's face after she left him and returned to her mother's home in the red-light area of the city. The acid fused her lips, burned off her hair, melted her breasts and an ear, and turned her face into "a look of melted rubber". That same year, a 20-year-old woman called Hafiza was shot twice by her brother, Asadullah, in front of a dozen policemen outside a Quetta courthouse because she had refused to follow the tradition of marrying her dead husband's elder brother. She had then married another man, Fayyaz Moon, but police arrested the girl and brought her back to her family in Quetta on the pretext that the couple could formally marry there. But she was forced to make a claim that Fayaz had kidnapped and raped her. It was when she went to court to announce that her statement was made under pressure – and that she still regarded Fayaz as her husband – that Asadullah murdered her. He handed his pistol to a police constable who had witnessed the killing.

One of the most terrible murders in 1999 was that of a mentally retarded 16-year-old, Lal Jamilla Mandokhel, who was reportedly raped by a junior civil servant in Parachinar in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Her uncle filed a complaint with the police but handed Lal over to her tribe, whose elders decided she should be killed to preserve tribal "honour". She was shot dead in front of them. Arbab Khatoon was raped by three men in the Jacobabad district. She filed a complaint with the police. Seven hours later, she was murdered by relatives who claimed she had "dishonoured" them by reporting the crime.

Over 10 years ago, Pakistan's Human Rights Commission was recording "honour" killings at the rate of a thousand a year. But if Pakistan seems to have the worst track record of "honour" crimes – and we must remember that many countries falsely claim to have none – Turkey might run a close second. According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women – 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 – were killed in "honour" crimes and feuds. Other Turkish statistics, drawn up more than five years ago by women's groups, suggest that at least 200 girls and women are murdered every year for "honour". These figures are now regarded as a vast underestimate. Many took place in Kurdish areas of the country; an opinion poll found that 37 per cent of Diyabakir's citizens approved of killing a woman for an extramarital affair. Medine Mehmi, the girl who was buried alive, lived in the Kurdish town of Kahta.

In 2006, authorities in the Kurdish area of South-east Anatolia were recording that a woman tried to commit suicide every few weeks on the orders of her family. Others were stoned to death, shot, buried alive or strangled. A 17-year-old woman called Derya who fell in love with a boy at her school received a text message from her uncle on her mobile phone. It read: "You have blackened our name. Kill yourself and clean our shame or we will kill you first." Derya's aunt had been killed by her grandfather for an identical reason. Her brothers also sent text messages, sometimes 15 a day. Derya tried to carry out her family's wishes. She jumped into the Tigris river, tried to hang herself and slashed her wrists – all to no avail. Then she ran away to a women's shelter.

It took 13 years before Murat Kara, 40, admitted in 2007 that he had fired seven bullets into his younger sister after his widowed mother and uncles told him to kill her for eloping with her boyfriend. Before he murdered his sister in the Kurdish city of Dyabakir, neighbours had refused to talk to Murat Kara and the imam said he was disobeying the word of God if he did not kill his sister. So he became a murderer. Honour restored.

In his book Women In The Grip Of Tribal Customs, a Turkish journalist, Mehmet Farac, records the "honour" killing of five girls in the late 1990s in the province of Sanliurfa. Two of them – one was only 12 – had their throats slit in public squares, two others had tractors driven over them, the fifth was shot dead by her younger brother. One of the women who had her throat cut was called Sevda Gok. Her brothers held her arms down as her adolescent cousin cut her throat.

But the "honour" killing of women is not a uniquely Kurdish crime, even if it is committed in rural areas of the country. In 2001, Sait Kina stabbed his 13-year-old daughter to death for talking to boys in the street. He attacked her in the bathroom with an axe and a kitchen knife. When the police discovered her corpse, they found the girl's head had been so mutilated that the family had tied it together with a scarf. Sait Kina told the police: "I have fulfilled my duty."

In the same year, an Istanbul court reduced a sentence against three brothers from life imprisonment to between four and 12 years after they threw their sister to her death from a bridge after accusing her of being a prostitute. The court concluded that her behaviour had "provoked" the murder. For centuries, virginity tests have been considered a normal part of rural tradition before a woman's marriage. In 1998, when five young women attempted suicide before these tests, the Turkish family affairs minister defended mandated medical examinations for girls in foster homes.

British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of "honour" in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone – 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions. Many women are ordered by their families to commit suicide by burning themselves with cooking oil. In Sulimaniya hospital in 2007, surgeons were treating many women for critical burns which could never have been caused by cooking "accidents" as the women claimed. One patient, Sirwa Hassan, was dying of 86 per cent burns. She was a Kurdish mother of three from a village near the Iranian border. In 2008, a medical officer in Sulimaniya told the AFP news agency that in May alone, 14 young women had been murdered for "honour" crimes in 10 days. In 2000, Kurdish authorities in Sulimaniya had decreed that "the killing or abuse of women under the pretext of cleansing 'shame' is not considered to be a mitigating excuse". The courts, they said, could not apply an old 1969 law "to reduce the penalty of the perpetrator". The new law, of course, made no difference.

But again, in Iraq, it is not only Kurds who believe in "honour" killings. In Tikrit, a young woman in the local prison sent a letter to her brother in 2008, telling him that she had become pregnant after being raped by a prison guard. The brother was permitted to visit the prison, walked into the cell where his now visibly pregnant sister was held, and shot her dead to spare his family "dishonour". The mortuary in Baghdad took DNA samples from the woman's foetus and also from guards at the Tikrit prison. The rapist was a police lieutenant-colonel. The reason for the woman's imprisonment was unclear. One report said the colonel's family had "paid off" the woman's relatives to escape punishment.

In Basra in 2008, police were reporting that 15 women a month were being murdered for breaching "Islamic dress codes". One 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was beaten to death by her father two years ago because she had become infatuated with a British soldier. Another, Shawbo Ali Rauf, 19, was taken by her family to a picnic in Dokan and shot seven times because they had found an unfamiliar number on her mobile phone.

In Nineveh, Du'a Khalil Aswad was 17 when she was stoned to death by a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a man outside her tribe.

In Jordan, women's organisations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more "honour" killings than Muslims – often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims. Their stories are wearily and sickeningly familiar. Here is Sirhan in 1999, boasting of the efficiency with which he killed his young sister, Suzanne. Three days after the 16-year-old had told police she had been raped, Sirhan shot her in the head four times. "She committed a mistake, even if it was against her will," he said. "Anyway, it's better to have one person die than to have the whole family die of shame." Since then, a deeply distressing pageant of "honour" crimes has been revealed to the Jordanian public, condemned by the royal family and slowly countered with ever tougher criminal penalties by the courts.

Yet in 2001, we find a 22-year-old Jordanian man strangling his 17-year-old married sister – the 12th murder of its kind in seven months – because he suspected her of having an affair. Her husband lived in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Souad Mahmoud strangled his own sister for the same reason. She had been forced to marry her lover – but when the family found out she had been pregnant before her wedding, they decided to execute her.

In 2005, three Jordanians stabbed their 22-year-old married sister to death for taking a lover. After witnessing the man enter her home, the brothers stormed into the house and killed her. They did not harm her lover.

By March 2008, the Jordanian courts were still treating "honour" killings leniently. That month, the Jordanian Criminal Court sentenced two men for killing close female relatives "in a fit of fury" to a mere six months and three months in prison. In the first case, a husband had found a man in his home with his wife and suspected she was having an affair. In the second, a man shot dead his 29-year-old married sister for leaving home without her husband's consent and "talking to other men on her mobile phone". In 2009, a Jordanian man confessed to stabbing his pregnant sister to death because she had moved back to her family after an argument with her husband; the brother believed she was "seeing other men".

And so it goes on. Three men in Amman stabbing their 40-year-old divorced sister 15 times last year for taking a lover; a Jordanian man charged with stabbing to death his daughter, 22, with a sword because she was pregnant outside wedlock. Many of the Jordanian families were originally Palestinian. Nine months ago, a Palestinian stabbed his married sister to death because of her "bad behaviour". But last month, the Amman criminal court sentenced another sister-killer to 10 years in prison, rejecting his claim of an "honour" killing – but only because there were no witnesses to his claim that she had committed adultery.

In "Palestine" itself, Human Rights Watch has long blamed the Palestinian police and justice system for the near-total failure to protect women in Gaza and the West Bank from "honour" killings. Take, for example, the 17-year-old girl who was strangled by her older brother in 2005 for becoming pregnant – by her own father.

He was present during her murder. She had earlier reported her father to the police. They neither arrested nor interrogated him. In the same year, masked Hamas gunmen shot dead a 20-year-old, Yusra Azzami, for "immoral behaviour" as she spent a day out with her fiancée. Azzami was a Hamas member, her husband-to-be a member of Fatah. Hamas tried to apologise and called the dead woman a "martyr" – to the outrage of her family. Yet only last year, long after Hamas won the Palestinian elections and took over the Gaza Strip, a Gaza man was detained for bludgeoning his daughter to death with an iron chain because he discovered she owned a mobile phone on which he feared she was talking to a man outside the family. He was later released.

Even in liberal Lebanon, there are occasional "honour" killings, the most notorious that of a 31-year-old woman, Mona Kaham, whose father entered her bedroom and cut her throat after learning she had been made pregnant by her cousin. He walked to the police station in Roueiss in the southern suburbs of Beirut with the knife still in his hand. "My conscience is clear," he told the police. "I have killed to clean my honour." Unsurprisingly, a public opinion poll showed that 90.7 per cent of the Lebanese public opposed "honour" crimes. Of the few who approved of them, several believed that it helped to limit interreligious marriage.

Syria reflects the pattern of Lebanon. While civil rights groups are demanding a stiffening of the laws against women-killers, government legislation only raised the term of imprisonment for men who kill female relatives for extramarital sex to two years. Among the most recent cases was that of Lubna, a 17-year-old living in Homs, murdered by her family because she fled to her sister's house after refusing to marry a man they had chosen for her. They also believed – wrongly – that she was no longer a virgin.

Tribal feuds often provoke "honour" killings in Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran, for example, a governor's official in the ethnic Arab province of Khuzestan stated in 2003 that 45 young women under the age of 20 had been murdered in "honour" killings in just two months, none of which brought convictions. All were slaughtered because of the girl's refusal to agree to an arranged marriage, failing to abide by Islamic dress code or suspected of having contacts with men outside the family.

Through the dark veil of Afghanistan's village punishments, we glimpse just occasionally the terror of teenage executions. When Siddiqa, who was only 19, and her 25-year-old fiancé Khayyam were brought before a Taliban-approved religious court in Kunduz province this month, their last words were: "We love each other, no matter what happens." In the bazaar at Mulla Quli, a crowd – including members of both families – stoned to death first Siddiqa, then Khayyam.

A week earlier, a woman identified as Bibi Sanubar, a pregnant widow, was lashed a hundred times and then shot in the head by a Taliban commander. In April of last year, Taliban gunmen executed by firing squad a man and a girl in Nimruz for eloping when the young woman was already engaged to someone else. History may never disclose how many hundreds of women – and men – have suffered a similar fates at the hands of deeply traditional village families or the Taliban.

But the contagion of "honour" crimes has spread across the globe, including acid attacks on women in Bangladesh for refusing marriages. In one of the most terrible Hindu "honour" killings in India this year, an engaged couple, Yogesh Kumar and Asha Saini, were murdered by the 19-year-old bride-to-be's family because her fiancée was of lower caste. They were apparently tied up and electrocuted to death.

A similar fate awaited 18-year-old Vishal Sharma, a Hindu Brahmin, who wanted to marry Sonu Singh, a 17- year-old Jat – an "inferior" caste which is usually Muslim. The couple were hanged and their bodies burned in Uttar Pradesh. Three years earlier, a New Delhi court had sentenced to death five men for killing another couple who were of the same sub-caste, which in the eyes of the local "caste council" made them brother and sister.

In Chechnya, Russia's chosen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been positively encouraging men to kill for "honour". When seven murdered women were found in Grozny, shot in the head and chest, Kadyrov announced – without any proof, but with obvious approval – that they had been killed for living "an immoral life". Commenting on a report that a Chechen girl had called the police to complain of her abusive father, he suggested the man should be able to murder his daughter. "... if he doesn't kill her, what kind of man is he? He brings shame on himself!"

And so to the "West", as we like to call it, where immigrant families have sometimes brought amid their baggage the cruel traditions of their home villages: an Azeri immigrant charged in St Petersburg for hiring hitmen to kill his daughter because she "flouted national tradition" by wearing a miniskirt; near the Belgian city of Charleroi, Sadia Sheikh shot dead by her brother, Moussafa, because she refused to marry a Pakistani man chosen by her family; in the suburbs of Toronto, Kamikar Kaur Dhillon slashes his Punjabi daughter-in-law, Amandeep, across the throat because she wants to leave her arranged marriage, perhaps for another man. He told Canadian police that her separation would "disgrace the family name".

And, of course, we should perhaps end this catalogue of crime in Britain, where only in the past few years have we ourselves woken to the reality of "honour" crimes; of Surjit Athwal, a Punjabi Sikh woman murdered on the orders of her London-based mother-in-law for trying to escape a violent marriage; of 15-year-old Tulay Goren, a Turkish Kurd from north London, tortured and murdered by her Shia Muslim father because she wished to marry a Sunni Muslim man; of Heshu Yones, 16, stabbed to death by her father in 2005 for going out with a Christian boy; of Caneze Riaz, burned alive by her husband in Accrington, along with their four children – the youngest 10 years old – because of their "Western ways". Mohamed Riaz was a Muslim Pakistani from the North-West Frontier Province. He died of burns two days after the murders.

Scotland Yard long ago admitted it would have to review over a hundred deaths, some going back more than a decade, which now appear to have been "honour" killings.

These are just a few of the murders, a few names, a small selection of horror stories across the world to prove the pervasive, spreading infection of what must be recognised as a mass crime, a tradition of family savagery that brooks no merciful intervention, no state law, rarely any remorse.

Surjit Athwal
Murdered in 1998 by her in-laws on a trip to the Indian Punjab for daring to seek a divorce from an unhappy marriage

Du'a Khalil Aswad
Aged 17, she was stoned to death in Nineveh, Iraq, by a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a man outside her tribe

Rand Abdel-Qader
The Iraqi 17-year-old was stabbed to death by her father two years ago after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra

Fakhra Khar
In 2001 in Karachi, her husband poured acid on her face, after she left him and returned to her mother's home in the red-light district of the city

Mukhtaran Bibi
The 18-year-old was gang-raped by four men in a hut in the Punjab in 2002, while up to 100 men laughed and cheered outside

Heshu Yones
The 16-year-old was stabbed to death by her Muslim father Abdullah, in west London in 2002, because he disapproved of her Christian boyfriend

Tasleem Solangi
The Pakistani village girl, 17, was falsely accused of immorality and had dogs set on her as a punishment before she was shot dead by in-laws

Shawbo Ali Rauf
Aged 19, she was taken by her family to a picnic in Dokan, Iraq, and shot seven times after they had found an unfamiliar number on her phone

Tulay Goren
The 15-year-old Kurdish girl was killed in north London by her father because the family objected to her choice of husband

Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha
The 20-year-old's father and uncle murdered her in 2007, after she fell in love with a man her family did not want her to marry

Ayesha Baloch
Accused of having sexual relations with another man before she married, her husband slit her lip and nostril with a knife in Pakistan in 2006


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 London ~ Wednesday, 8 September 2010, page 26

Relatives with blood on their hands

Eight of the women who sought refuge in Hina Jilani's Lahore shelter died later at the hands of their families. In the second part of our investigation, the lawyer explains how authorities covered up

By Robert Fisk

Hina Jilani, Samia Sarwar's lawyer, speaks with contempt for the judges who allow the killers to go free (AP)

"So far, I've lost eight women from my shelter," Hina Jilani says. "One went out for a job in town, she left our shelter, got on a bus – and was gunned down by her brother. Her name was Shagofta, she was in her late twenties. She had already married the man she loved but the parents had disapproved. Her brother got straight off the bus and went to the police station and gave himself up. But his father – Shagofta's father – 'forgave' him. So he was let off. And nothing happened."

Ms Jilani is a tough, brave lawyer with a harsh way of describing the "honour killing" – the murder – of young women. She has to be tough, given the death threats she's received from Pakistan's Islamists. She speaks with contempt for the families who murder their women – with even more contempt for the police and the judges who allow the killers to go free. Pakistan has the grotesque reputation of being one of the leading "honour-killing" countries in the world.

"Some of the women in our Dastak shelter in Lahore left us after assurances from their families that they would not be harmed," Ms Jilani says. "We always tell the women not to accept these assurances. In the Lahore High Court, I was sitting there when the judge was insisting that a women from our shelter should go back to her parents. The more the judge insisted, the more the woman resisted. He made her sit in his chambers and then in the court. And then, as she left the High Court gate, they shot her down. The judge said nothing."

Before he resigned in 2008, President Pervez Musharraf was asked why nothing had been done to alleviate the plight of women in Pakistan. There was no money available, the General said. But Pakistan had to spend money on nuclear and conventional weapons "in order to live honourably". National honour, it seemed, mattered more than the lives and honour of the women of Pakistan.

In Ms Jilani's office in Lahore, where fans whirl against the heat in small rooms crammed with legal files, faded documents and trilling telephones, an armed guard sits at the door. "The eight women from our shelter who were murdered – this has become a big scandal," Ms Jilani says, her voice rising as her anger rekindles itself. "There is a law in this country – it's always the family that conspires to kill, so if the father or brother kills, the family forgives him and there's no charge. The law says there can be a 'compromise' at any stage without any evidence coming into court. The trial simply stops if there is a compromise. The court has to give its permission for a compromise – but it always gives permission. This means an automatic acquittal. This means that there is no stain on the murderers."

Ms Jilani went to the police after Shagofta was killed by her brother on the Lahore bus. "We asked them what they were doing. They said the family had forgiven the brother. 'We have no power now to investigate,' they said. I sent this to the Commission on the Status of Women – and they took this case up with the Inspector General of Punjab. So far, there has been no response. I sent letters to the IG myself. Then he said that the 'investigation' was still going on. But there was no 'evidence' – of course not, because the girl was killed, as they say, 'in the heart of the family'."

Ms Jilani sighs, often. Sitting in the chair opposite her desk at the end of her office, listening to her furious indignation, I get the impression – indeed, I have the absolute conviction – that she faces a set of Islamist laws going back to the time of another dictator, Zia al-Haq, that are constantly undermining her lawyer's soul.

"There was a girl here and she wanted to marry against her parents' wishes. So her brother killed her husband-to-be. He went to jail after being sentenced to 14 years. He wanted to go after the girl, his sister. She sought shelter here with us. Her family blame her because her brother is in jail.

"To this day, we don't know what to do with the girl. She is now doing secretarial work here in our office. She has enough economic independence. But her fiancé's family have no sympathy with her because their son is dead. And her protection is the duty of the state – not mine. She's been here in the office for two years now. Our office guard brings her here and back to the shelter every day."

One of the most savage of all the "honour" murders was committed in the very office in which we are sitting. A decade ago, it brought world publicity and caused international outrage – which had not the slightest effect. The killing of Samia Sarwar still haunts Ms Jalani. "She was shot where you are sitting," she said. "I saw the holes in her head. Her brains were on the wall behind you."

Most "honour" crimes are committed by the poor and deprived. But 29-year-old Samia was the daughter of Haj Ghulam Sarwar, a rich man and head of the Peshawar chamber of commerce in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Her mother was a doctor. Samia was married to her aunt's son. The couple had two children, the elder nine years old.

She claimed that her husband beat her constantly and wanted to leave home, and her father invited her to return to her family home – on the condition that she did not remarry. But Samia fell in love with an army officer, Nadir, told her parents about him and asked them to secure a divorce.

Mr Sarwar refused, on the grounds that this would split the family. Then Samia eloped with Nadir. Threatened by the father, she fled to Lahore – and to Ms Jilani's shelter. Under the rules of the Dastak shelter, Samia's mother was told her daughter was in Lahore.

"First an official came to see me from the North West Frontier Province," Ms Jilani recalls. "He was a scoundrel. He demanded that Samia return to her family. I said, 'That's her decision'. Her father came to Lahore. I told Samia that he wanted to see her. Her hands were trembling – like this." And here Ms Jalani shakes her hands over her desk. "She told me, 'Madam, they will kill me, they will kill me.' You learn to believe what these women say. I believed her. I always tell my colleagues: never think the woman is exaggerating her fears."

Samia's parents appointed one of Ms Jilani's legal colleagues to represent them to plead for a meeting with their daughter. Samia refused. Then her mother called by phone, offering to give her divorce papers so she could marry Nadir. Samia – fatally, as it turned out – trusted her mother's word. According to Ms Jilani, Samia told her: "I will see my mother – but she must come alone. I will only meet her in your presence." The meeting was set for mid-afternoon in the lawyer's office. The armed guard was told to ensure nobody arrived with a weapon.

"I was sitting here and she was sitting there, where you are. We were chatting about her case. The office staff were leaving – it was around 4pm – and suddenly the door opened and this woman entered with a man. I didn't recognise the man. Someone from my office brought them both. But there had been a security lapse as the office was closing. The woman said, 'This is my driver.' I looked up and said, 'You can send your driver away now – come and sit down.'

"Samia didn't apprehend any danger. She said 'Salaam aleikum' to her mother. And just as she said that, this man whipped out a pistol – in a split second, just as Samia was greeting her mother – and shot her. I was still sitting down and I felt the bullet go past my ear. He shot Samia in the head the first time, then in the stomach. I saw her fall down." Ms Jilani says she collapsed in shock but managed to press the security alarm.

"I could see Samia was dead – she had a hole in her head and her brains were coming out. Some of my staff came. But the mother, she just looked at her daughter. Then she turned round and walked out. She and the man with the pistol went to the door, and I shouted, 'Call the police.' The man was holding another of my lawyers at gunpoint. Then he shot at the office guard, who fired back. The gunman was carrying an ID card which said he was an official driver in the North West Frontier Province."

To this day, Ms Jilani is overwhelmed not just by the failure of security in her office – it was presumably the armed guard who let the uncle in – but the growing suspicion that the police were somehow involved. "When I called the Inspector General," she says, "he said he'd be here in a minute. Then after 10 minutes, the senior superintendent of police was here. The mother first went to a local hotel and then ran away to Peshawar. Within an hour, the police knew who she was – but they let her leave the city. The police must have known. In fact, the only police officer who tried to investigate this was transferred to another city."

Ms Jilani went to court – "an ideal case for prosecution," she thought – but discussions dragged on for two years. Samia's family even claimed that Ms Jilani had abducted the girl and had her killed. Then the police accepted that her mother was not present in the lawyer's office – a palpable untruth. Finally, the mother and father and the man who was still Samia's husband filed a "compromise" on behalf of all their children, forgiving the killing. The judge accepted the compromise.

The family later claimed Samia's body from the police station and took it to Peshawar for burial. Two days after her murder, the local Women's Action Group, said they would hold prayers for Samia, even without her body. "I asked Maulavi Farouq Mawdadi to say the prayers," Ms Jilani remembers, "and there were up to 300 women there, and Mawdadi conducted our prayers on the Lahore Mall. There were many police watching us – but then some of the policewomen and a few policemen joined in our prayers. This was a turning point.

"Then what happens? The court said there was a 'technical problem' with my appeal. I went right up to the Supreme Court but they said I was a pro formal complainant. They said, 'You are not an aggrieved party.' It became a burning issue. There was a resolution put before the Pakistan Senate condemning honour killings."

So what did happen? The resolution of Senator Syed Iqbal Haider, of the Pakistan People's Party, was supported by 19 of his colleagues. But the rest of the house opposed the resolution. Mr Haider was himself threatened and Ms Jilani received many death threats from Islamist groups.

Nadir, the man Samia wished to marry, was dismissed from the Pakistan army for "lowering morale". He is now married with two children and is believed to be living in Britain.

Ms Jilani has been told that Samia's mother has "gone mad with grief and guilt". When I visited Peshawar and asked to visit Samia's grave, I was told that its location was "unknown".

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 London ~ Tuesday, 7 September 2010

One woman's nightmare, and a crime against humanity

Forced to marry her own rapist, Hanan now lives in terror of losing her son – and of being murdered by her family. Her case-history introduces a four-day series investigating a global scandal that destroys many thousands of lives every year
By Robert Fisk in Amman

Human rights activists in Multan, Pakistan, protest against 'honour' killings (EPA)

Call her Hanan. She sits in front of me, a red scarf tied round her long intelligent face, her wide, bright eyes sparkling as she tells her story, her two-year-old son Omar restless on the chair beside her. To save the "honour" of her family – and to avoid being killed by her youngest brother – she has married her own rapist. To save the "honour" of her family – to stay alive – she is now divorcing her rapist. Omar, drinking orange juice, jumping on his plastic chair, is the rapist's son.

Hanan is the victim of a vast, corrupt system of "honour" crimes that plagues the Middle East, and takes the lives of at least 5,000 women – perhaps four times that number – a year, a vicious patriarchal system of extra-judicial killings in which a chance conversation between an unmarried woman and a stranger, a mere rumour of extra-marital relations – let alone sexual relations – leads to death by throat-cutting, strangulation, beheading or shooting. These executions – usually by members of the women's own family – are almost always committed in secret. They are always brutal. They are a scourge on society. Policemen and judges often connive with the murderers.

Hanan is a Palestinian Sunni Muslim, raped in her own home in Jordan by another Palestinian, but "honour" crimes are neither a uniquely Muslim phenomenon nor a religious tradition. Christians practice the "honour killing" of women. So do Hindus. From south-east Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan to Pakistan and India, in Egypt and Gaza and the West Bank – across an area far wider than the old Ottoman empire – women are shamefully murdered to "cleanse" their families amid the squalor of mountain villages, refugee camps and city slums. "Honour" crimes are the greatest taboo of the region which, through emigration, has spread to Europe and the Americas.

Hanan has been lucky – so far. She tells her story with courage, sitting beside the women who run a shelter in Amman for Jordan's potential "honour" victims. But 31-year-old Hanan is also frightened. Exactly a week after we met, a Jordanian man confessed to killing his 16-year-old niece to save his family's "honour" after she was sexually assaulted – Hanan's own tragedy – by a 17-year-old who took her virginity. The uncle fired 30 machine-gun rounds at his niece at Deir Alla, close to Amman, "to cleanse the family honour", although other members of his family had already married the girl off to a cousin in the hope of concealing the rape.

"My father is blind and I was living with him in a very small house, looking after him when he wasn't selling feather dusters," Hanan says. "The rest of my family – my mother, three brothers and two sisters – live elsewhere. All I did was look after my father. Then one afternoon when my father was at work, I went to take a nap. But I woke up to find a man on top of me. He was a thief who had got in through the roof and I couldn't get him off me. I could do nothing. I screamed and screamed but no one heard me and he raped me. He was a rough-looking man , with the scar of a knife wound on his cheek and tattoos on his arms. I think he was drunk because he smelled of alcohol. He was like a demon.

"I tried to commit suicide the same afternoon, so I wouldn't have to tell my father what had happened. I swallowed a whole pack of pills. Nothing happened – but I slept for two whole days. I wanted to tell my father, but I didn't tell him for another 10 days. When I did, he was very upset and he was crying. He got sick and at one point they were going to take him to hospital. Then he said to me: 'No one knows and no one needs to know, so we can keep it between us. But after a month and a half, I had symptoms like I was pregnant – still, I didn't tell my father this for another two months. I was too shy. But my period didn't come for three months. My father then told me to go to a doctor to have a check-up. He was sad and crying all the time." By the standards of other poor Palestinian families, Hanan's father was a remarkably kind man. Still Hanan's mother and brothers and sisters knew nothing of her plight.

"I discovered I was pregnant when I went to the doctor. Both my father and I were very fearful. Both of us were scared of my brothers and how they would react. I was most scared of the youngest, who is 24, a typical Jordanian guy, easily angered. So we left our place and moved elsewhere in Amman without telling the rest of the family. I tried to do an abortion by drinking anything I could find. I got many medications, but they didn't work. We tried to find someone who would do the abortion but we didn't know anyone. Days were going by – and it was obvious I was pregnant. All the time, of course, the family were trying to find us."

Hanan tried to travel to Egypt with the help a friend of her father's, a Lebanese man who was also blind and who suggested sending the young woman to Lebanon but there was fighting in Beirut. They wanted to obtain a passport for Hanan but the Lebanese man became ill and by then Hanan was six months pregnant. A doctor eventually came to her home and told her of the shelter run by the Jordanian Women's Union. She was immediately brought to the house where other women in fear of their families are cared for by volunteers and lawyers, a special section of the building cordoned off with a locked iron gate for those most in danger.

"I thought I would have the baby and then give it away," Hanan says. "The women helped me even though I wanted to give it away. But deep inside me, I wanted the baby. I couldn't say that to my father because we didn't know the identity of the man who raped me. But I knew this man was from the same neighbourhood and there was a neighbour of ours whose son knew the rapist's name.

"While I was in the shelter, the women tried to convince me to keep the baby. My mind was in conflict with itself. But when I delivered my baby, it was a different day to anything else in my life." Here Hanan's eyes lit up, independence amid adversity. "You know, you can say you don't want a baby, but you do. I was crying and scared that someone was going to say they would take the baby. And I was scared to say I wanted to keep my little boy."

Under Jordanian law, a women's shelter must inform the police if a child is born without the presence of the mother's family. When the cops arrived, they were polite but put a policeman on guard outside her door and grilled Hanan until six in the morning. "They made me feel like I was guilty," she says. Hanan told them all she knew about the rapist and about her father, who then told the police of the neighbour's son. When they showed the boy a set of photographs of criminals, he immediately identified the man who had raped Hanan. She recognised him too. The man, who had a long crime record, was already in prison for attempted murder. The police took Omar away to register his birth in a social services office but he was returned to Hanan who then moved to a government home. Yet her problems were far from over.

"The lawyers at the shelter knew of the danger to me and asked if I wanted to get engaged to this man – then I could get married and later divorce him – and tell my family that my 'honour' was intact. I could say I got married, had a child and then legally divorced my husband. The lawyers went to my rapist to arrange our marriage. He was still in prison and denied he had done anything to me. Then he agreed he had taken me – but said it was consensual! But eventually he confessed and signed a paper saying that I could do whatever I wanted with my baby. He also agreed to marry me.

"So a day came when my father and I went to court and we saw the rapist passing us with some policemen. But when we got married, on 20 October 2008, we didn't see each other. At this point I could keep Omar. I stayed in the shelter for a month after we were married. Everything was legal. So I went back to my father's place and we had a normal life. I kept visiting the Women's Union; they were trying to get a birth certificate for the baby and this took a year. The rapist – yes, the man I married – is now out of prison." Hanan has just told her mother and sisters of her ordeal. Her brothers still know nothing.

"I have told them I work in an orphanage, looking after children," Hanan says. "When I go to see the family, I take Omar with me and say he is a boy from the orphanage. They believe he is an orphan who is attached to me, but my brothers keep asking questions. Why is the boy with me all the time? Where is his family? They see him every two weeks or so and keep asking. Later, when I am divorced, I will tell my brothers the whole story. I think they will accept it. I will tell them that the union helped me and that everything is now legal. My mother and my sisters accept it, although they are sad. It was my father's idea that we should tell my brothers after I'm divorced."

Hanan smiles, more in hope than from conviction, I suspect. The women who helped her are also heroines, but they too are still concerned for her. "Without the Women's Union, if these people hadn't helped me, I would be dead – dead financially, dead psychologically and dead physically", Hanan says. "But God didn't want life to be unfair to me. Now the story has ended, thank God."

Hanan plans to tell her brothers – once she is divorced – that her former husband is in prison for raping her, that legal justice has been done, that she was married to him, that she divorced him, that "honour" has been preserved. But the brothers will know, of course, that she was raped before her marriage. Will this satisfy family "honour"? Hanan has fought her first battle – she decided to keep Omar – and now faces a much more serious one. Not that Omar would understand. The two-year-old struggles down from his plastic chair and demands chocolates. But given his mother's painful struggle, what world has he been born into?

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