By Angela Boskovitch
Monday, August 6, 2007
After a Pakistani woman was slain by relatives in Italy, an immigrant women's advocacy group moved into action to make the murder the last "honor killing" in Italy and also deflect anti-Muslim sentiment stirred by the crime.
BRESCIA, Italy (WOMENSENEWS)--When the preliminary hearing in the "honor killing" trial for the murder of 20-year-old Hina Saleem adjourned in late June, Moroccan-born Souad Sbai was on the scene.
"We want justice for Hina and we ask that her dreams of freedom and her sacrifice should not be forgotten," said Sbai, president of the Rome-based Italian Association of Moroccan Women.
Then she and other demonstrators outside the courthouse carried white lilies to Saleem's gravestone in a part of the cemetery designated for Muslims.
The defendants in this case--Saleem's father and three male relatives--have chosen an abbreviated legal procedure. The trial will reconvene on Oct. 25 for a day of witness testimony, followed by closing arguments to be delivered on Oct. 26. Saleem's father has admitted his guilt to the police. Despite the confession, as yet none of the four defendants has been formally convicted.
The defendants will receive a one-third reduction of any sentence under the arrangement with the court. If they receive life imprisonment, the sentence would be reduced to 30 years. The sentence could be even further reduced resulting from "extenuating circumstances" as defined by the judge.
The Italian Association of Moroccan Women is composed of Moroccan and Italian women working to reduce gender-based violence in immigrant communities and at the same time promote Muslim social integration.
Vowing to be present throughout the rest of the proceedings, members of the group portray the case as a stab at its own heart.
At the hearing on June 28 the group bused women from around Italy to demonstrate outside the courthouse and hold up placards saying "Io sono Hina," which translates to "I am Hina."
The women were joined by the imam of Turin, Abdellah Mechnoune.
"Having Western customs doesn't violate any rule in the Quran," Mechnoune said to reporters in condemning the murder.
Hina Saleem was found by police Aug. 11, 2006, wrapped in bags and buried in a shallow grave in her family's backyard in Brescia, a city in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, with a gash in her throat inflicted by a meat knife.
Her mother, in Pakistan at the time of the murder, acknowledged to police that her husband had killed Saleem who "did not behave like a good Muslim girl."
Saleem's father--a legal resident of Italy since 1989 who worked in a factory and also ran a kebab stand--was arrested Aug. 14, 2006. Unrepentant, he told police: "My daughter was a prostitute, living with that Italian. I killed her out of rage."
The prosecution alleges that Saleem's family chose to murder her after careful deliberations over her Western-style behavior and refusal to submit to an arranged marriage. Saleem lived with Giuseppe Tampini, a local carpenter, and secretly worked as a waitress in a bar.
In May, Moroccan activist Sbai petitioned the court to allow the Italian Association of Moroccan Women, along with her companion Tampini, to act as the injured parties in the case. Under Italian law, this meant that the group could collect damages and could provide a closing statement in court.
Sbai called the offer to act as plaintiff in the case "a duty towards Hina and the thousands of Hinas of this world."
The court, however, denied Sbai's request. The judge said the murdered woman and her killers were Pakistani, therefore a Moroccan women's organization had not directly suffered from the crime.
Tampini, as the boyfriend and cohabitant, will be permitted to act as a plaintiff when the trial reconvenes on Oct. 24.
Sbai, who's resided in Italy for 27 years, also sits on a board that advises Italy's Ministry of the Interior about Islam.
While promoting integration, Sbai seeks to highlight the best of North African cultures and Islamic teaching.
She says the case has fueled anti-Muslim sentiments.
At the preliminary hearings demonstrators with her group were focused on stopping any more slayings of a similar nature in Italy.
But two men also outside the courthouse held up a sign saying "Hina: Victim of Islam." Dounia Ettaib, vice president of the Italian Association of Moroccan Women, refuted any linkage of Islam with the murder.
"Hina's father applied his own inhuman, unreligious laws," she told Italy's newspaper L'Occidentale after the hearing.
Ettaib says that Islam cannot be blamed for the crime and that women such as Saleem are victims of terrorism and a false understanding of religion.
Ettaib was later assaulted and threatened by two young Moroccan men in Milan and now has a bodyguard.
"Honor killings" are committed against rape victims, women suspected of having premarital sex and women thought to have committed adultery, according to UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
The women are typically killed by male relatives in an attempt to restore the family's honor, which they believe was violated. Such killings may also occur to settle property or financial disputes. They occur in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and other Mediterranean and Gulf countries, immigrant communities in Europe and the United States, and in Brazil.
Honor killings are not exclusive to Islam. In the past year such crimes occurred in a Kurdish Yezidi community in Iraq and in a Christian family in Ramallah.
Honor killings are also part of Italy's own history, where the idea of "honor" was an admitted legal defense until 1981. Prior to its reversal, an article existed in the Italian Criminal Code that provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family's honor.
Honor killings have also shown up more recently in the news.
In London, a 70-year-old woman and her son were convicted July 26 for the honor killing of Surjit Kaur Athwal, who was murdered after threatening to get a divorce. Both the woman and her son face life sentences in prison. The verdict came a week after a British court concluded proceedings in the sexual torture and murder of a Kurdish woman, Banaz Mahmod, at the hands of her father and uncle, who both received life sentences. A third man involved in the honor killing was sentenced to 17 years in prison; two others are still at large.
In Italy, Giovanni Morabito, a 24-year-old member of a powerful Calabrian mafia clan, shot his unmarried sister in March 2006 for having a child out of wedlock and for apparently wanting to leave the family after earning her law degree.
"She had a child by a man she was not married to," Morabito told police. "It is a question of honor. I am not sorry. On the contrary, I am proud of what I did."
Angela Boskovitch is a freelance journalist based in Germany. She covers events in Europe and the Middle East as well as international development. She also has a blog covering agricultural policy and food traditions at http://Food-Travels.com.
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