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Diary: Notes on an honor killing

Noor ul-Ayn
A Kunduz murder investigation reveals the human tragedy of an all-too-common crime against Afghan women.
26.03.2015  |  Kunduz
26    تظاهرکنندگان در هرات پلاکاردهای همبستگی با فرخنده را که در 19 مارچ توسط مردم بدون محاکمه کشته شد، بالا کرده بودند. افزایش موارد مستند از خشونت علیه زنان، به شمول خشونت های خانوادگی، موجی از تظاهرات را در سراسر افغانست
26 تظاهرکنندگان در هرات پلاکاردهای همبستگی با فرخنده را که در 19 مارچ توسط مردم بدون محاکمه کشته شد، بالا کرده بودند. افزایش موارد مستند از خشونت علیه زنان، به شمول خشونت های خانوادگی، موجی از تظاهرات را در سراسر افغانست

The sound of loud weeping and screaming fills the street. Throngs of people are entering a home through a small metallic door. Some are leaving the house. Inside, an old man leans forward on a single wooden crutch. Every once in a while, he wipes tears off his face and beard.

He says his name is Abdul Qader, a resident of the third district of Kunduz city, an area at the bottom of Zakheel village. He is crying because his only daughter has was killed by her husband the previous night. Unable to contain himself, Abdul Qader breaks down in sobs. “She was not ill. After her death, her neighbor told me many secrets about her. I now know that she was living in a hell, not a home. She had never told me about her miserable life.”

The woman who lived in the house next to Abdul Qader's daughter is difficult to reach. Through her mother, I manage to convince her to talk to me. 

"Sameera" is the only person who knew all the secrets of the deceased 26-year-old woman’s life. She has horrible stories of how "Raihan" was killed. “Raihan was limping a little bit on one leg. For this reason, she was married off to an older man, who was a widower with an orphan child from a previous marriage. Raihan was a patient woman. She put up with all the miseries of her life just to keep the honor of her family and that of her husband’s. She was married for six years. We were neighbors. During the first three years, they had a fairly good relationship. In one year, they might have gotten intimate once or twice, but later, they had no intimate time anymore. Her husband totally distanced himself from her. This is what Raihan used to tell me.” 

Raihan’s husband was a police commander and openly expressed interest in other women. He had no interest in his own wife. He would beat her and make her bring him a young woman who lived down the street and whose husband was known to have problems with his libido. Raihan obeyed him once, and the young woman began to meet Raihan's husband regularly. 

Raihan objected to her husband’s infidelity several times and asked him why he was not interested in her sexually. On many occasions, he would force Raihan to engage in oral and anal sex. Later on, her husband’s extramarital affairs became unbearable. Raihan once told Sameera that if her husband continued to cheat on her, she would put on nice clothes and go out, indirectly telling her husband that she could cheat on him too if she wanted. 

A week later, Raihan dressed up and went out. It was lunchtime when she left. She was out walking on the streets when her husband found out. He came home from the police station and beat her up until she passed out. When she regained consciousness, Raihan tried to swallow pills to kill herself, but her husband prevented it. Then, he left for work. 

“When he came home that night, he beat her up again," Sameera said. "We were too scared to intervene. The next day, she was dead. At lunchtime, they took her to the hospital.”

In Sameera's view, Raihan’s husband beat her to death just because she left the house, limping on one leg. “My husband says that a woman who steps outside the house dishonors her family,” Raihan had told Sameera. 

Raihan’s mother is old and has a curved back. She said that Raihan once complained to her about her husband's infidelity. “He beat her up on several occasions," Raihan’s mother said. "She used to ask me not to tell her father about it. She was afraid that her life would get even worse. I also encouraged her not to tell anyone about it for the sake of her family. I asked her to be forgiving and patient. I never knew he would kill her after she'd given him three sons.”

After completing forensics work in Kabul and reporting to the Provincial Primary Court of Kunduz Province and the Provincial Appeal Court of Kunduz Province, prosecutors sentenced Raihan's husband, Commander Seraj, to eight-year imprisonment. 

Seraj does not have much to say about the murder.  “I am innocent,” he maintains. Officials at the prosecutor’s office, however, said that they had investigated the case thoroughly and sent it to court. Officials at the Court of Appeals said that the verdict was based on witness testimonies, police investigation and forensic evidence. 

"A woman who leaves the house..."

Raihan is not the only woman to be killed by her husband for allegedly staining the family honor. Every year, dozens of women in Kunduz province get killed simply for leaving their house. In Kunduz, security and civil society institutions frequently prevent brothers and fathers from killing their sisters and daughters by taking them to safe houses. 

Nadera Giah, director of the Provincial Department of Women Affairs in Kunduz province, said that forcing women to stay inside their homes is a question of honor for many men. For this reason, women keep getting killed. If women do anything to assert their rights, they end up murdered. 

Nadera Giah said the rate of honor killings is escalating due to nonsensical traditions and customs which are against Islam. Four women have been victims of honor killings just this year, she added. 

Officials at the police headquarters in Kunduz province said they prevented at least four more honor killings this year. “On several occasions, police were notified of potential honor killings," said Kunduz police spokesman Sayeed Sarwar Hussaini. "Police intervened and the alleged perpetrators were arrested.”

Hayatullah Amiri, Regional Director of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said his organization registered 130 cases of violence against women in the first six months of the year. 

Banu Badal Bibi, publications director of the Provincial Department of Women Affairs in Kunduz province, said there have been more than 40 cases of violence against women in Kunduz province. 

The statistics given by the Provincial Department of Women Affairs in Kunduz province do not cover all cases of honor killings. Women rights activists and officials at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission believe many more cases go unreported.