Al mashriq - The Levant

Getting away with murder

Ranwa Yehia reports on how 'honor crimes' skirt the law

Courtesy of the Daily Star, August 27, 1999.

A recent study on crime shows that sentences issued between 1994 and 1998 in 16 cases of murder included one acquittal, four one-year prison sentences, four sentences of less than five years in prison, three jail sentences of less than 10 years, and four life sentences.
All the murders were officially designated as 'honor crimes.'
The randomly chosen cases in which men murdered their female relatives 'to wash away the shame cast on the family' are listed in a study published recently by the Joseph and Laure Moughaizel Association. Of the 16 cases, seven took place in the North, five in the Bekaa, two in Beirut and one each in the south and Mount Lebanon.
According to Internal Security Forces statistics, there were 22 cases of so-called 'honor crimes' committed between 1995 and 1997. More recent figures were not available.
Lawyer Seta Kerechekian believes that the cancelation of a law in the Penal Code could eventually change people's mentality, if not by conviction, then by fear of punishment.
Kerechekian, also a member of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women, said article 562 of the Penal Code actually encouraged men to commit such crimes.
The article stipulates that a 'man who surprises his wife, daughter or sister practicing adultery or illicit intercourse and killed or harmed one of the two partners without premeditation shall receive a commuted sentence.' It was only in February that the law was amended to make a man's action punishable. Before that, the law acquitted a man for such an action.
A second section of the article, canceled in February, stipulated that a man who kills or harms a female relative if he surprises her in a 'suspicious situation' would receive a commuted sentence.
'One would think that with the second section canceled, men and women would be punished equally in cases of adultery,' said Kerechekian.
The Penal Code punishes a woman who commits adultery with a prison sentence of between three months and two years. A man committing adultery has to be caught in the act in his own home or be known by others to be conducting an illicit affair to be sentenced to prison for one month to a year.
Kerechekian and other activists believe the article should be canceled altogether. 'Murder is murder. People in tribal or traditional families may not be deterred by a light sentence and would be willing to face punishment to clear the family's reputation,' she said.
If the article were canceled, and the law dealt with so-called honor killings as it does other crimes, Kerechekian said that people would be more inclined to think twice if they risked being given the death sentence.
A closer look at the ISF statistics indicates that people do take advantage of the law.
An ISF official at the statistics department noted that many crimes that are initially thought to be 'honor' crimes and are registered as such in the police report turn out to be otherwise after further investigation.
ISF statistics show that at least eight cases in a period of three years which were claimed by family members to be 'honor' crimes turned out to be crimes because of inheritance or personal disputes.
'There's no such thing as an honor crime in the penal code, but there's justification for a crime if the motive was 'honest',' the ISF official said.
Article 193 of the penal code stipulates that 'if a judge finds out that the motive (of a crime) was honest, he shall be sentenced as follows: Life imprisonment instead of execution, imprisonment for life or for 15 years instead of life imprisonment with hard labor, temporary imprisonment instead of temporary imprisonment with hard labor or brief imprisonment instead of brief imprisonment with hard labor.'
Article 192 defines a motive as 'the cause that possessed the doer to carry out the action or the final end he seeks.' Article 193 also adds that a judge can relieve a convict from posting the sentence and verdict and making it public a requirement in many cases.
A 1983 addition to the article attempts to justify the term 'honest' by stipulating that the motive is considered as such 'if it was characterized with magnanimity and chivalry and stripped of selfishness, personal considerations and material benefit.'
'The term 'honest' is so relative that it would be up to the judge to decide what is an honest action and what isn't. I believe it's unjust that a crime be judged based on a judge's point of view,' Kerechekian said.
So-called honesty, she continued, can be found in the case of a brother who killed his sister because he saw her having coffee with a man. 'If you put 20 people in this room right now and ask them what an honest motive is, each one would have a different answer,' Kerechekian said.
Another gap in the Penal Code that helps men get away with 'crimes of honor' is Article 252 which says that 'a perpetrator of a crime shall receive a commuted sentence if he carried out the crime while in extreme anger because of an unjust and dangerous act committed by the victim.' The terms 'extreme anger' and 'unjust and dangerous' are again relative and it would be up to the judge to decide on the matter.
Laws in the Lebanese Penal Code are based on the first Ottoman Penal Code of 1840. In 1943, when Lebanon became independent, a penal code was created based on French laws. The 1810 French Penal Code on honor crimes gave a husband a commuted sentence if he surprised his wife in a compromising situation in their own home. This article, along with all punishments concerning adultery, was canceled in France in 1975.

Wiping away the 'shame'

The case of a Syrian woman who was allegedly slaughtered by her brother in Baalbek last month for eloping with a man he did not approve of is still a popular topic of conversation in the area.
'He had to do it. He had to wash away the shame his sister caused the family,' said Hamad Ismail, from the village of Brital. Ismail employed the victim, Aida Mohammed, and her husband Hamid Touaymi. The couple worked in his potato fields in the village of Taybeh.
It was in those potato fields that the unfortunate Aida was found with her throat slit. Her husband immediately accused his brother-in-law of committing the crime. The case is currently under review by the authorities.
People from Brital and Taybeh who were interviewed by The Daily Star shortly after the murder talked about the incident almost casually, and while they condemned the act as barbaric and a result of ignorance, they nonetheless seemed to sympathize with the mentality behind it.
'These people belong to tribes. To them, a man is disgraced for the rest of his life unless he erases the shame by killing the woman who caused it,' Ismail explained.
Ismail denied that he would do the same if his sister, 'God forbid,' were to bring similar 'shame' to the family.
The two policemen at the rundown police station in Taybeh looked on suspiciously as a Daily Star reporter and photographer attempted to discuss the murder of Aida. 'We cannot give any information regarding this incident,' the officer on duty said.

DS 27081999


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