Enab Baladi – Qamishli
The story of Rizan Mahouh, a young man in his thirties and resident of the city of Qamishli, went viral and became an issue of public opinion among Syrians for the past few days after he was arrested by the city’s self-government forces of Asayish. He was charged with polygamy and sentenced to one year of prison and a 500 thousand Syrian lira fine. He was also forced to divorce his second wife.
In January 2014, the “Self-government of al-Jazira Province” issued a law that declared “men and women to be equal in all aspects of political and social life”.
It accordingly prohibited polygamy, honor crimes, unilateral divorce and dowry and also allowed women to hold leading political positions.
The law stated that “combating backward hegemonic prejudices in society and establishing equality between men and women in every aspect of public and private life are the duties of every single resident of the democratic self-government areas”.
From the Wedding Stage to Prison
During the making of this report Enab Baladi received information from sources inside the city of Qamishli indicating that Asayish forces arrested a young man during his wedding ceremony. He was charged with marrying a second wife and held accountable on the spot as he has not been given time until the next day of marriage.
The sources pointed out that this is not the only case where the self-government administration started to implement the law in the areas it controls in north-eastern Syria, but other cases involving trial, detention and payment of fines have become recurrent in the past months after the law was passed.
Very firm measures are said to have been unequivocally taken by the self-rule administration following this law.
In Civil Society and in the Army
The laws issued by the self-rule administration radically differ from the bulk of legal texts and social norms and customs that previously prevailed in the Syrian region of al-Jazira, which is considered as one of the most conservative Syrian provinces. It is extremely attached to ancestral heritage and to the rituals of anterior Jazrawi communities.
Mayada Ahmed, the head of the Law and Marriage Contracts Bureau in the municipality of Qamishli defended the measures that the self-government administration exposed the young detainee to by saying that “the conjugal life pact follows the rules set forth by the women who struggled with too many political and social problems in their communities, and it is based on some fundamental principles that include the right to compete for votes and to have their testimonies taken on equal terms with males in law courts.”
Mayada Ahmad also considers that “the partnership principle in the self-government institutions also allows for co-presidency between men and women” and the case of Elham Ahmad and Riad Darrar’s co-presidency of the Syrian Democratic Council is a clear manifestation of this.
In the past few months, the collaboration of women and men in self-government areas has not only been limited to community service but has also started to include military service as well. Kurdish women have started to distinguish themselves in the battles against ISIS in the cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor as soldiers in the ‘Syrian Democratic’ armed forces.
Sanctions Reaching up to Two-Year Sentence
The law prohibits marriage in case the girl was a minor or forced to marry against her will. Mayada Ahmed, the head of the law office in the municipality of Qamishli, stated that the penalty for getting a girl married against her will was set from one to three months of prison and a 50 to 100 thousand lira fine to be paid by the bridegroom.
The man is to suffer a three month to one year sentence and a fine ranging from 100 to 300 thousand liras in case the woman prosecuted him after marriage.
Mayada Ahmad enumerated the additional penalties imposed on those who would violate these regulations. If a man gets married for the second time and is subsequently revealed, he will be sentenced from one to two years of prison in addition to a 500 thousand Syrian Liras fine.
She pointed out that “if the offender is an employee in one of the self-government institutions, he will be fired “. She also noted that “the same penalty applies to the sheikh and the witnesses of the marriage contract”.
“In case the wife proves to be pregnant and the legal office was informed only after marriage the couple will be divorced and forced to consent, and the infant’s rights to bear the family name and be financially taken care of will be preserved. The divorce should not be unilateral, instead both should ask for it”.
A young woman, Nafia Mohammed, who is a resident of the city of Qamishli supported the ban on polygamy and considered it as important because of the “migration of young men and the increase in spinsterhood rates in the region pushed men to consider getting married to a second wife”.
She pointed out that “woman has been subject to injustice throughout the ages and this law is meant to protect us from oppression and masculine domination (…) I am strongly for subjecting men to the severest penalties if they happen to get married again”.
However, on the other hand, the law is met with criticism especially from those who tackle the issue from a religious point of view because Islam allows man to marry up to four wives as long as he manages to “treat them equally”.
Young man Hammerfan Kussah believes that polygamy “contradicts with the principles of human rights.”
“I do not think the law will be implemented in the desired way,” he said to Enab Baladi, “because tribal communities consider this as part of their cultural heritage that cannot be easily abandoned, especially with the great support it gets from sheikhs and public leading figures”.
According to the young man, a large number of elderly women do not support this decision on the basis of many arguments. “The implementation of the law,” he posits, “must be accompanied with a community awareness campaign in the region to help execute it because legal justifications alone are inadequate”.