Court reporter Rana Husseini has documented over thirty cases a year in Jordan of "honor murder," the killing of women by their own families. Petra Tabeling met with the committed journalist.
It was a particularly tragic story that Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini heard about ten years ago. A girl was murdered by her own brother because she had discredited the family. The girl died after a long path of suffering: she was raped several times by one of her brothers and finally became pregnant.
The family blamed her and forced her to abort the child. Afterwards the parents married their daughter to a fifty-year-older man who cast her out after six months. The girl turned to her family and was murdered on the same day.
Raising public awareness
Rana Husseini was horrified when she learned about this tragic event in 1993. The Jordanian woman had just returned from the USA to work at the daily newspaper The Jordan Times as a court reporter.
The now thirty-seven-year-old journalist has since made it her task to document and make these honor murders known in her home country, for she discovered that no one spoke about such incidents.
"I feel it is my responsibility to tell everyone that these women deserve to live. Nobody has the right to kill them." When the report about the honor murder of the sixteen-year-old girl appeared the next day in the Jordan Times, the editorial office received angry calls of protest, not only from men but also from women. Their argument: Rana Husseini was giving people a wrong image of Jordan.
Not an Islamic tradition
The ignorance of her own compatriots motivated the court reporter to start documenting honor murders being practiced today. This she has done since 1994, always with the support of her editors. Rana Husseini is aware of approximately twenty to twenty-five honor murders committed in Jordan every year and assumes there are about five more cases each year that no one talks about.
Honor murders of women occur after a rape, an undesired pregnancy, or for inheritance reasons. "Many believe that such murders only happen in Islamic circles, but this has nothing to do with the religion of Islam," observed Rana Husseini. "It is a cultural practice that takes place in the more impoverished and less educated classes of society, where religion is falsely interpreted.
Protest against blind justice
The court reporter quickly discovered with her research that Jordanian legal authorities regularly classify such serious offences as minor: "The murderers walk away with light prison sentences. I' ve seen sentences of six or even three months in prison."
The Jordanian criminal law treats honor murder as a minor offence and as behavior justified by the "unjust" and "dangerous" actions of the victims. Article 340 of the Jordanian penal code permits perpetrators in such cases to go unpunished or to receive substantially reduced sentences.
Thanks to her documentation non-governmental organizations have become aware of the problem, including the human rights organization Amnesty International, which awarded her a prize in 1997, by no means the only one she has received. "My problems began when the international media became aware of me and my work against honor murder, said Rana Husseini as she described this period.
"I received threatening letters, emails, phone calls, especially from men in the USA, who asked me to stop reporting it." Her opponents come from conservative or Islamic circles.
Initiatives against honor murders
Rana Husseini has nonetheless succeeded in making honor murders a public issue in Jordan. Since she became active, numerous public debates have focused on the controversial issue of honor murders. Meanwhile the Jordan monarchy has promised its support in the battle against honor murders, the government says it wants to change the law as well as build women's refuges, which currently do not exist.
The only protection these women have from being persecuted by their own family lies in protective custody: "These women have no other chance. Over forty women live in prisons together with serious offenders for this very reason," explained the journalist, who regularly visits these women. Some women have lived under these circumstances for more than ten years.
Thus Rana Husseini knows that the building of women's refuges by the state is extremely urgent: "Only state protection can be effective here."
But so far the concessions made by the government have hardly been translated into deeds, complained Rana Husseini. International attention and pressure on Jordanian authorities are therefore still extremely important.
"We must do something to wake society's conscience on this issue if we want to put an end to these inhumane murders. The good thing in Jordan is that we have a relatively open society, so that it is at least possible to talk about the problem of honor murder.
© Qantara.de 2004
Translation from German: Nancy Joyce