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 Two Jordanian women, who were raped or had relationships outside marriage, are being kept in the Qafqafa jail in northern Jordan to protect them from

Two Jordanian women, who were raped or had relationships outside marriage, are being kept in the Qafqafa jail in northern Jordan to protect them from «honor killing» by their families (Photo: Ali Jarekji)

“He punched me with his fists until one of my eyes started to bleed. Then we cried together the rest of the night because we did not want to leave each other. He said it was out of his control: he was under pressure from the tribe. I could run away and tell the police that I was a victim of domestic violence – something proved by my damaged face – or stay and suffer the wrath of my family.”

Aiwa[1] was the intended victim of a planned honour killing. Under threat of death from her relatives, she was sent by government authorities to the only safe place they had available – detention in jail. Now, fifteen years later she is released, but she still has to live the rest of her life hiding in fear from the family who still want to kill her to restore justice.

From the desert in Jordan Aiwa asks: Is it justice that people who are threatening to kill are free while those who are seeking protection are thrown in jail,  as if they were the criminals?

The only option available

Late at night I am picked up at my small hotel in Al Sadaa by a male bedouin – a desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes. We drive for hours into the endless desert, first on the road by car, then on the sand by jeep, and at last we walk by foot, until I feel like I have reached the end of the world, where nobody will ever be able to find me.

True, this has to be the best place to hide away. But Aiwa does not live her; she just wants to meet me under a controlled environment. She has agreed to meet me on two conditions – I have to protect her identity and I have to include her husband’s side of the story.

While driving through the desert my bedouin driver tells me several stories about honour killings. «Some of the recent deaths include an uncle who threw his niece in a well because she was rumored to have had sexual relations; a man who stabbed his pregnant sister and mutilated her body because he thought she had cheated on her husband, and two sisters killed by their three brothers with an axe when one sister ran away with the man she loved», he says.

I tell him that I find it hard to imagine that there are women out there spending most of their lives behind bars to avoid being killed by close relatives who believe they’ve brought shame upon their families.

“However strange it may seem, being in prison might be their only rescue”, he answers.

Trapped in open landscape

When we finally arrive to a small tent where Aiwa is waiting, the landscape seems endless; only the dark shadows of the mountains distinguish the border between the earth and the sky – a lack of restrictions in great contrast to the prison cell in which Aiwa has spent most of her life.

As Aiwa recounts the events surrounding the last fifteen years of her life, the agony of grief is drawn across her face. Her eyes are half-closed, one of them still moving a bit slower than the other – she almost got paralyzed after the brutal punches in her face.

“I have committed no crime, yet spent fifteen years of my life among real criminals”, Aiwa says after the usual ritual of greetings with three cups of coffee and sweet tea around the fire. She shakes her head with small, rapid movements. A deep frown furrows her forehead.

“I never thought I would set foot in such a horrible place. Suddenly my whole life was diminished into a room within four walls. I felt locked up in a cage. I could not breathe the air. I tried to save my life, but ended up having no life at all”.

She explains that jail was the only option she had avaliable to avoid being killed by her father or brother in the name of honour.

These «honour killings», are meted out for crimes such as having extra-marital relationships, marrying someone without family approval or getting raped or molested. As patriarchal tradition casts the male as the sole protector of the female, and his protection is violated, he loses honour because either he failed to protect her or he failed to bring her up correctly.

In these cases honour justifies the action of killing. According to article 340 of the Jordanian criminal code, «a husband or a close blood relative who kills a woman in a situation highly suspicious of adultery will be totally exempt from sentence.»

For Aiwa, the crime that justified the threat of killing her was befriending a man.

A life sentence

To escape the wrath of the family, she and her husband came up with a plan.  She went to the police station, bruised and blue, with tears and blood still pouring from her eyes, explaining to the police that her husband had tried to kill her, and that she needed protective custody.

Aiwa explains that she was more than welcomed by the authorities, who claimed that they could not permit this threatened woman to leave prison until a male family member showed up and announces that he would guarantee her safety.

“My husband regained his honour, and his family and mine were pleased that he had tried to kill me to regain the reputation of the family”.

But there’s a catch: even if a woman voluntarily checks in to prison for protection, she cannot check herself out. Since no official crime was committed, the legal system has no bearing on Aiwa’s release: she was stuck in jail, just like the real criminals around her.

Deena Dajani, co-creator of the No Honor in Crime movement of women confirms that you are not able to leave prison unless your family promises not to kill you and pays a hefty guarantee.

Consequently, most of the women end up in prison for the rest of their lives after signing in at the age of 18 or so, or get out and are then killed. Families hav also in some cases plotted ruses to get a woman released, only to kill her once she’s brought home.

Invisible women

There is no way to quantify how many women are currently sitting in prison  for fear of being murdered at the hands of their fathers or brothers. One figure counted among activists of known prisoners puts the number at 13, but experts say it’s likely many more.

However, when I visit Aqaba prison to talk to some of these women, all of them have miraculously disappeared. Government minders are monitoring where I go and what I see, and most of the questions I ask still remain unanswered.

The prison director insists that this prison isn’t currently holding any women, and while I am there they are nowhere to be seen.

Apparently the women have been cleared away to keep them from my talking to me, because when I quiz the guard outside and the staff at the local police station they all say that they have recently put away 3 women at risk in this prison.

“We have created a group called Save The Parents under the auspices of His Majesty King Abdullah II, who take care of these women”, the prison manager Omar Mohammad says, and continues: “They can just phone this group, and you know – cell phones are everywhere in Jordan today – and this group will come and protect them”.

“The police take very good care of the women –I mean, if they for some reason would come to the prison – and the facilities are very nice”, Mohammad adds.

However, the so-called Save The Parents group seems even harder to find than the women in the prison, and when I later ask the award-winning Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini – who has been reporting on honour killings for years – about this institution, she answers that this is the first time she has ever heard of a organization like that.

“If someone’s life is in danger, shouldn’t it be the person who threatens their life that should be locked up and not the other way around”, I politely ask both the prison manager and the lieutenant who has come to show me around the prison.

“They say ‘it’s just like outside. We feel at home here’. They say so themselves. If you met any of the inmates, you’d hear it from them”, they two respectable men answer and mumbles something in Arabic.

How strange it is then – I think to myself – that I cannot meet any of the three women I have been told are somewhere in this prison.

In an earlier interview Rana Husseini asked Dr Saad Munaseer – the governor of Amman, who has the power to send women to prison without trial – the very same question, to which the governor replied:  “I detained some family members who we felt might commit a crime. We detained them. They were detained. But as to why we detain her, she’s the one who committed the crime”.

With such answers you cannot get away from the fact that that it is the victims of harassment and crime that lose out, regardless of crime, regardless of honour. The woman will be the one accused. And she will pay the price for a crime she has never committed.

“Such ignorance is a proof of how strong customs are, and how little willingness we find to alter the existing power structure of which these killings form a part, and continue to enforce” Rana concludes.

No honour in crime

While Aiwa tries not to be bitter, the years behind bars have clearly been devastating.

“To forget it or forget about it, it’s impossible. Whoever enters that place is lost. You’re locked up within four walls 24 hours a day. I’m telling you, when you’re locked up for that long and you ask yourself why… and there’s no answer, you start to think that death maybe was an better option after all”.

Today she is released from jail, after fifteen years with a desperate wish to return to the outside world. Her husband sign her out, but advised her to run away, because she’s still at risk of getting killed by close relatives.

“Please understand that my husband has always been a very good man. Don’t write that he is a bad person. We loved each other very much, and he has saved my life twice” Aiwa insists.

However, freedom from fear is something Aiwa will never get back. Jordan is a small country and the people here are very good at donating information. Consequently Aiwa fears that somebody might spot her in the street and tell her family that she is out and alive and then they might come and kill her.

“But it is a risk worth taking. To me there is no honour in crime and no honour in spending your whole life in jail” she concludes.

Interior Minister Mazin al-Sakit in September recommended changes in the Crime Prevention Law, under which provincial governors can detain people administratively. The suggested changes, if approved by the Council of Ministers and parliament, would prohibit use of administrative detention for “protective custody” of women whose family members threaten them with violence.

The government has yet to make any significant official moves to end the practice and protect the women who suffer these crimes.

[1] Aiwa is a pseudonym .Because her life is still in danger I can’t give her real name or give any other details which might reveal her to those who want her dead.


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Dette innlegget ble postet den desember 1, 2012 av i JORDAN.