Three women are victims of honor crimes in Ras al-Ain region

Markets of the city of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah - October 12, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)

Markets of the city of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah - October 12, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Under the pretext of “Wiping off the shame” or “maintaining family honor,” three young women were killed in the border region of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah city, between 9 and 12 October.

Shahad and Zahra Shehada, two teenage sisters were killed on October 9 by their brother in the village of al-Madan, south of Ras al-Ain, as a result of pictures and video recordings being circulated in Telegram, the social media messaging service, and went viral among the local users.

Majed al-Rabie, a relative of the Shehada family, told Enab Baladi that the killing of the two girls was at the hands of their brother after posting (non-nude) photos and video recordings on a Telegram room called “Peace Spring Nightmare,” in which they were blackmailed.

The second incident occurred on the 11th of the same month, when Zainab Khalaf al-Hamada was killed by her two brothers, Mohammad and Anas, in her home in the village of al-Aziziyah, west of Ras al-Ain, as a result of their suspicion that she was entering into a relationship with a man outside of marriage.

Relatives of al-Hamada family told Enab Baladi that the killing came as a result of societal pressure on the two young men, Mohammad and Anas after the girl’s story was circulated. The two young men suspected her of being involved in an “illicit” relationship, so they proceeded to kill her even without verifying the accuracy of the information through forensic medicine, and it is not legitimate even if proven.

Family relatives stated that the civil police detained the two young men, awaiting their referral to justice.

Social media victims

A source in the forensic medicine office in Ras al-Ain told Enab Baladi that the region had not witnessed the occurrence of honor crimes over the past four years and stated that the office had only documented the past three cases.

The source recommended that people refer to official authorities, such as the Forensic Medicine Office, to ensure that evidence is verified and accurate information is provided, to avoid interfering with emotions and tribal mentality, and to allow justice to take its course.

Manar al-Marei, a women’s rights activist and director of the Al-Salam Association in Ras al-Ain, told Enab Baladi that the reasons for these crimes are usually unknown and that women often become victims of revenge by their relatives or inaccurate media promotion, as in the case of the killing of the two girls (Shahad and Zahra), because of blackmailing them and publishing their photos on Telegram.

Telegram channels and rooms with tens of thousands of followers are active in the regions of northwestern Syria. The rooms bear the names of cities, villages, towns, and military factions and have different affiliations, and are managed by unknown persons or entities. Some of them are also run by those close to the factions or the de facto rulers of the region, the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) or the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

Some channels specialize in publishing scandals and practices of opposition factions and go further to post pictures and news about sexual relations for women in the region under the pretext of pursuing and fighting corruption, and they threaten to publish more, causing chaos and confusion in the region.

Al-Marei pointed to the need to raise awareness of women’s rights and combat “honor crimes.” She expressed her concern about society’s complicity with this idea, noting that insinuating the presence of an attack on honor could be sufficient to prevent legal intervention in such crimes.

New legislation targeting “honor killings”

Mohammad Ali al-Hamza, head of the local council in Ras al-Ain, told Enab Baladi that the council directly contacted the Civil Police Command and the Public Prosecution immediately after the killing of three women under the pretext of “Wiping off the shame” or “maintaining family honor” to investigate these crimes.

Al-Hamza added that the council is currently working in cooperation with the Public Prosecution to develop legislation that prevents such crimes from occurring and stipulates strict penalties for their perpetrators, stressing the importance of applying the law to everyone without exception.

The director of Ras al-Ain Endowments, Eid al-Zaher, expressed his dissatisfaction with the honor killing of the three women, noting that these crimes are unacceptable in the Sharia law.

Al-Zaher told Enab Baladi that the Endowments Directorate is determined to direct its efforts towards educating society about the importance of adhering to the laws and the necessity of abandoning clan and tribal violence.

Islamic Sharia law rejects individual retaliation and requires that cases be returned to the competent judiciary to consider the charge through a fair trial based on Sharia evidence consistent with reason and logic.

Dr. Mohammad Habash, Syrian Islamic scholar and former member of the People’s Assembly, defines “honor crimes” as “crimes related to taking revenge on a woman or a man if they are suspected of immoral conduct. This is reprehensible and unacceptable, neither linguistically nor legally, and it is a new use,” stressing that the term was widely used “through journalistic discourse, not through the language of jurists.”

Habash mentioned in his study, “Honor Crimes between Sharia and the Law,” that Islam was strict in prohibiting adultery and considered it a moral and social crime, especially “when it involves marital infidelity, out of the strict Sharia’s concern for the stability of the family.”

The legal penalties prescribed for the crime of adultery are not an individual matter and can’t be applied by whoever wishes and when he wishes, according to Habash.

He added that this is the matter of the legitimate government, whose duty is to implement the law, and this can only be done after the nation has chosen to implement this ruling and agreed to it through its democratic institutions, and the punishment has many precise conditions that are necessary for the legitimate rule to be achieved.

The veteran scholar pointed out that these conditions are so “severe and stringent” that it is impossible to fulfill them, considering that committing murders in the name of “honor crimes” is an Islamically rejected logic according to Islamic jurisprudence and its principles.

How does Syrian law punish honor killings?

The Syrian Penal Code, which was issued by Legislative Decree No. 148 of 1949, continues to exempt the murderer from punishment if he commits murder under the pretext of an “honorable motive” by granting him an excuse that exempts him from this punishment.

In 2009, the first change occurred, so the killer with this motive was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison. Human rights organizations criticized the change, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), and stated at the time that the Syrian government must treat all killers equally and not exclude from them those involved in “ honor killings.”

This continued until Decree No. 1 of 2011 was issued, which abolished the text of Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code, which stipulated that “anyone who surprises his wife, one of his ascendants, descendants, or his sister in the flagrant crime of adultery shall benefit from the permissible excuse.” Or in immoral sexual relations with another person, then he kills or harms them or kills or harms one of them unintentionally. The perpetrator of murder or harm benefits from a mitigating excuse according to the law if he surprises his spouse, one of his ascendants or descendants, or his sister in a suspicious situation with another.”

The previously mentioned Article (548) was replaced by Article (15) of Decree No. “1” of 2011, which abolished the murderer’s benefit from the excuse that was exempt from punishment in the event that he committed the crime of murder for an honorable motive.

While the law did not clarify the “suspicious situation” that was a justification for granting the mitigating excuse in the old law and maintaining it would expose many women to the risk of being killed under the pretext of honorable motive, under the pretext of the “suspicious situation” in the event of the inability to prove adultery.

The text of the article states that “a mitigating excuse benefits anyone who surprises his wife, one of his ascendants, descendants, or sisters, in the crime of adultery, or indecent sexual relations with another person, and then proceeds to kill or harm them or to kill or harm one of them unintentionally, and the penalty shall be imprisonment from five to seven years for murder.”

There is no clear data available in Syria about murders usually committed by family members who consider that women have committed acts that are shameful to the family or harmful to its reputation, while the human rights organization Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) reported that murders under the pretext of “defending honor” have increased with the escalation of the conflict in Syria.

The organization said that the security chaos, the absence of the rule of law, the spread of weapons, and the spread of the “culture of violence against women” and its normalization are all reasons that have contributed, in one way or another, to the high rate of murders under the pretext of “defending honor” in various regions of Syria, regardless of who controls them. 

The organization, in cooperation with the Musawah and SARA organizations, recorded at least 185 murders in various regions of Syria.

The victims were women and young girls, and these crimes were committed under the pretext of “defending (family) honor” during the period from the beginning of 2019 to the beginning of 2023.

Every year, October 29 is considered an International Day of solidarity with the victims of honor crimes. It was launched by the Syrian Women’s Observatory on October 29, 2009, after an incident that occurred in a Damascus court when the judge issued a lenient court ruling similar to acquittal against the brother of Zahra al-Azzou, a 16-year-old girl who was killed by her brother under the pretext of “Wiping off the shame.”

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Ras al-Ain, Hussein Shaabo, contributed to this report.



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