By Farah Maraqa
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
In Jordan, critics are finding shortfalls in the local press coverage of a March "honor" killing. To fill the void in reporting, one advocacy group, No Honor in Crime, publishes profiles of the victims to humanize them in ways local press reports do not.
Credit: Courtesy of the No Honor in Crime campaign
AMMAN, Jordan (WOMENSENEWS)--He suspected his cousin of being involved with another man so he asked her to take a virginity test as a precondition for proposing marriage, according to local press reports here. After the test results he decided that she was "honorable" and they became engaged.
But then the couple argued again about the same man. He told police officers that after a long argument with his wife-to-be he took his gun and shot her.
When he is sentenced will he receive leniency not given to confessed murderers in other situations? That question hangs over the case, which a police officer told Women's eNews on April 24 is waiting to go to court.
The murder in a governorate northwest of Amman, Jordan's capital, in late March, which is being covered in the local press, came two months after an Arabic-language press statement by the Amman-based Sisterhood Is Global Institute, a nonprofit organization, saying that this would be the year to see a decrease in these crimes.
The group based its optimism on the breakthrough death sentence given by a criminal court in Amman in December to two brothers who admitted to killing their sister "to cleanse the family's honor."
As Agence France-Presse reported at the time of the sentencing, murder has long been punishable by death in Jordan, but perpetrators who raise an "honor" defense can invoke a leniency clause in the criminal code. In this December case, a court official said the family of the victim did not ask for leniency. The news agency said that between 15 and 20 women die in so-called honor murders each year in the kingdom.
Such crimes occur within families and are motivated by the perpetrator's belief that the victim has shamed the family in some way: by refusing an arranged marriage, conducting a relationship against relatives' wishes, having sex outside marriage, being raped, being homosexual or dressing in ways deemed inappropriate.
The Jordanian Penal Code says a man who "catches his wife or one of his female close relatives committing adultery with another, and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, can benefit from the lightening excuse from the penalty."
The law specifies that to deserve a reduced sentence, there must be an element of surprise and the offending parties must be caught in the act.
A separate law, Article 97 of the penal code, says if there are mitigating circumstances, punishment may be lightened from execution or life imprisonment with the possibility of hard labor to at least one year imprisonment.
Women's rights activists here tried to abolish the use of mitigating arguments but in 2011 Jordan's parliament, facing public opposition, backtracked on doing so.
Thus, the law continues to offer perpetrators of honor crimes the opportunity to avoid the most severe punishment by presenting mitigating reasons.
Parliament's refusal to drop reduced sentences for mitigating circumstances in honor crimes, however, has made the courts stricter in determining the mitigating reasons, legal analysts say, leading to the landmark death sentence in December.
No Honor in Crime is a movement here that speaks out against honor killings. Hala Abu Taha, the head of its "changing the law" team, recently spoke with Women's eNews in an interview translated from Arabic.
Abu Taha said Jordan's patriarchal society leads to such events as women being blamed if she has been raped. In a sad tone of voice, she pointed to Jordanian traditions, preserved through legal leniency, that legitimize the idea of killing women to cleanse their honor.
She said her team conducted a small, informal survey of male engineers and found that 80 percent said they would kill a female relative if they found her guilty of something they thought shamed the family. Since the men surveyed are highly educated, she pointed out that this attitude is not tied to lower levels of education.
No Honor in Crime is trying to combat these killings by doing something not being done by local media. It publishes detailed profiles of every woman killed by this type of murder, complete with a photo and a description of her life, her family and her friends.
Abu Taha said that in publishing these long personal obituaries the group is trying to close a gap left by the local media. While Jordanian reports provide statistics about honor crimes, she said this coverage ignores the humanity of the victims.
Sa'ed Karajah, a lawyer in Amman, criticized the local media coverage from another point of view. He finds that the coverage of the most recent killing suggests the extent to which at least some of these motives are still widely accepted in Jordan.
"But the coroner said that she was virgin," the Arabic-language Almadeenah News reported March 23.
Karajah drew attention to that phrasing in a March 23 post in Arabic on his Facebook page. "It indicates that if she was not a virgin her killing would be allowed," Karajah wrote in a comment translated here from Arabic.
Farah Maraqa is a Jordanian reporter for Women's eNews. She is working for the Amman-based Al-Arab Al-yawm newspaper and the London-based Rai Al-Yaum news portal from her country and specializes in Middle East politics issues.
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