Two Dead In Pakistan After Apparent Honor Killing; Others Killed In United States And India

Honor killings are often the result of perceived infidelity. That was the case for one father, Saleh Muhammad, who killed his daughter in cold blood in the Shadheri province of Swat, Pakistan. Muhammad also murdered the person with whom his daughter was purportedly having an affair. Meanwhile, California resident Jagjit Singh, 65, allegedly shot his daughter in another honor killing. No trial date has been set.

His daughter Sumandeep Kaur Kooner, 37, was also having an affair when she told her family that she would run away from them. But investigators say that Singh didn’t just murder his daughter — he also sexually assaulted her. 

Courtroom documents shed little light on the investigation thus far. Authorities found the body on August 26 at 3200 Monache Meadows Drive with apparent bullet wounds to the face and neck.

Another slaying occurred in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. Authorities say that a girl’s father and brother caught her and her partner engaged in apparently controversial behavior, at which point they attacked the lovers with an ax, killing the daughter and gravely injuring her partner. The family is in hiding while the girl’s partner remains in critical condition at Saifai Medical College.

Authorities have yet to discover where the accused are hiding. 

Cases like these are common across the Middle East and in parts of Africa, but they occur infrequently in other regions as well. The vast majority of honor killings are perpetrated by fathers and brothers of women who were accused of dishonoring or shaming the rest of the family through non-traditional acts. 

Although the tragic circumstances are getting more attention from activists around the world, there is still a great deal of pushback in countries where these crimes are common. For example, some Palestian officials recently tried to roll back women’s rights by rejecting the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is a 1979 international treaty put into place by the United Nations General Assembly.

The legislation was signed into law in 2014 in Palestine, but not all of Palestine’s government officials were in agreement.

They made a blanket statement recently saying that “the Palestinian Authority must withdraw and cancel this agreement and call for the closure of all the feminist institutions and those supporting them in Palestine. There are hundreds of them in Palestine and we call for the cancellation of their rental agreements. Anyone who rents to them is a partner in crimes.”

A recent law would have increased the legal age of marriage to 18 for both men and women, but the officials rejected that as well. Women’s rights are under attack.

Second Update: New Charges Filed In Texas Irsan Case

Two 2012 murders have resulted in a number of charges filed against members of the Irsan family, most of which are focused on a father and his son and their dastardly deeds. But now Nadia Irsan, another member of the family, has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Initially, she had been charged with stalking — but investigators have uncovered more substantive evidence of wrongdoing in the ongoing criminal case against her.

Nadia has a public defender assigned to the case: Eric J. Davis. “My hope is that people will presume her innocent,” he said.

That seems like wishful thinking in a country where honor killings rarely occur, but are viewed as horrific and unjustified. The prosecutor assigned to the case, Marie Primm, certainly sees it that way.

Nadia’s father, Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, has already been sentenced to death for his involvement in the killing of another daughter’s husband, Coty Beavers. The second homicide resulted in the death of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, although prosecutors failed to immediately connect one to the other — especially because the time between the two was approximately eleven months.

Ali was an immigrant from Jordan, but still holds to some of his religion’s more extremist views.

Ali and his son Nasim worked together when going after Bagherzadeh in January 2012. They followed Bagherzadeh to her parents’ home, where Nasim shot her in the car she owned. Nasim was facing a capital murder charge before he accepted a prosecutorial plea deal of 40 years incarceration. 

In November 2012, Ali covertly infiltrated Beavers’ apartment — the door was apparently unlocked — and shot him to death when his daughter exited the building. His wife, Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, has also been charged with murder. She testified against her husband in exchange for a kidnapping plea.

According to Alrawabdeh’s testimony, Ali planned to kill his daughter, Nesreen, as well. The previous murders were committed because Ali viewed Nesreen’s relationship with Beavers, an American, to be a betrayal of their faith and culture (which is why these murders were considered honor killings).

Primm offered Nadia a plea to conspiracy to commit murder, which would have landed her in prison for at least 25 years. Nadia didn’t take the bait. That means if she goes to trial and is found guilty on the existing charges, she could end up incarcerated for the rest of her life — or for as little as fifteen years if the judge is feeling kind.

The Dangerous Practice Of Testifying In Honor Killing Cases

Honor killings are a brutal and common practice in the Middle East. Many women have been accused of “dishonoring” their families through sexuality or by running off with the wrong man, and subsequently murdered for their supposed transgressions. But what happens when one family member agrees to testify that his older brother murdered his sister? Apparently, he too is in danger.

That was the case for Taha al-Amouri, a 16-year-old who witnessed his 32-year-old brother Mohammed al-Amouri murder their 19-year-old sister, Najlaa al-Amouri. The alleged honor killing occurred on April 11 earlier this year, and Mohammed was indicted for the murder two months later. The Israeli media called Najlaa’s fate at home “systematic torment.”

Prosecutors working the investigation had already fast-tracked the case and Taha’s testimony because they suspected he might be in danger if the case dragged on longer. But Taha disappeared anyway, and his father filed a missing person report with the police.

“We intend to hold a meeting with senior officials to examine how to act if and when he is discovered,” the prosecution said. 

A number of apparent honor killings have been committed in Israel following the formation of the Palestinian feminist movement, “Tal’at.” The name is used to describe the “taking to the streets” of women who want equality.

The recent murder of a Palestinian Bethlehem native shows that there are consequences for those who stand up for themselves in this region of the world. Isra’a Ghrayeb’s death, though,  made the movement all the stronger. Protests have shot through Palestine in Gaza’s West Bank, and in at least six cities in Israel. 

These women aren’t requesting much from their governments — only legal protections from honor killings which, although illegal, are often dismissed by authorities who decide to instead turn a blind eye to the madness. 

Isra’a was murdered for no more than an Instagram post showing her alongside the man who had proposed to her. She tried to beg for her life, and fled from the brothers who allegedly murdered her, sustaining spinal injuries after falling from a balcony during the struggle in Beit Sahour. She subsequently died in the hospital after suspected foul play.

There have been at least 18 such honor killings of Palestinian women this year. Isra’a’s family denies any wrongdoing. According to a statement released after her death, she died “after she had a heart attack, following an accidental fall.” But much of the rest of the world isn’t buying into it, and cries for change have begun to resonate with humanitarian groups around the world.

Update: Irsan Taken Into Custody

Typically, honor killings occur in African or Middle Eastern countries. They occur when male members of a family feel “dishonored” by a female member of the family. A young woman will abandon an arranged marriage. She will post to social media too often. Or the clothes she wears will show a little too much. The excuses for these heinous murders are both numerous and complex. And in 2011, Houston, Texas was the site of two murders that prosecutors were quick to label: honor killings.

Mahwood-Awad Irsan was disappointed when his 23-year-old daughter, Nesreen Irsan, fled home to be with her boyfriend, Coty Beavers. Why was it such a big deal? Coty was American-born — and a Christian. Nesreen converted to his faith to make their relationship more tenable. But it had the opposite effect for her father.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh was an Iranian women’s rights activist who championed Nesreen’s desire to convert to Christianity, but she was found dead. Police considered it likely that her murder was politically motivated by hate groups in the area. They didn’t even begin to connect the dots until ten months later, when Beavers was found dead in his apartment in 2012.

It was then that investigators started looking into Ali.

Nesreen told them that her father had been agitated over her relationship with an American man, her departure from home, and her conversion to Christianity. She said that he believed the two murdered individuals had stained his family’s honor, and that she and Beavers had always feared for their lives. Ali, she said, had a known history of violence.

Before the murders, Nesreen had asked authorities for a writ of protection against her father. This prevented Ali from having access to guns — but it was too late for that. After Beavers was found murdered, police obtained a warrant to search Ali’s property in Conroe. They found something more damning than firearms inside, though: they found an envelope with at least two license plate numbers and addresses, belonging to Bagherzadeh and Beavers. 

The dots were finally connected. This man was obviously responsible somehow.

Harris County Special Prosecutor Anna Emmons described the raid to the documentary, A Wedding and a Murder: “So that one piece of evidence, that envelope, connected Ali to both Coty and to Gelareh, who were both dead.”

Later, Ali was taken into custody and charged with capital murder for the two killings. His wife, hoping to avoid charges as an accessory to murder, decided to testify against Ali in return for a plea deal. During a subsequent trial, she described his perhaps poorly laid out plan to murder Nesreen as well, noting that he only failed because he couldn’t sabotage her car successfully.

But it turned out that Ali’s son, Nasim, was involved in the murders as well. It wasn’t until August of this year that Nasim pleaded guilty to the murder of Bagherzadeh. The arrests haven’t helped Nesreen feel safer — she lives in isolation for fear of reprisal.

Irsan was sentenced to death.

Protests Erupt In Bethlehem After 21-Year-Old Woman Murdered By Family

Israa Ghrayeb was a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who grew up in Bethlehem and had a promising future — until she was murdered by her brother, Ihab. Even more disturbing is that Israa’s own father ordered her brother to commit the crime. What the family saw as an insult to their honor is hardly unthinkable in much of the rest of the world.

Israa had posted pictures and videos online of she and her fiance. The social media posts weren’t controversial in any way. So why did her family get so upset? Because a young woman and her fiance aren’t supposed to be together — or be seen together — prior to marriage. When relatives caught wind of the posts and alerted Israa’s father, he ordered Ihab to beat and kill her.

Ihab did as he was commanded, but Israa escaped — barely. She fell from the second story of the family home, severely injuring her spinal cord in the process. 

Subsequently, she made another Instagram post about her injuries, but made no mention about how she sustained the injuries.

She said, “I’m strong and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

Israa was recovering in a nearby hospital when they apparently came for her again. Video of the attack there allegedly shows her frantic, begging her attackers to let her live. But that’s not the official story, and has been contested by her family, who say she passed away after a heart attack. 

Palestinian NGO Adalah Justice Project didn’t mince words during a statement made after the killing: “Israa was murdered by members of her family after she posted a selfie video of an outing with her fiance. The crime is being called an ‘honor’ killing, but this is misleading and false. There is no honor in murder.”

Many want justice for Israa. Others are asking if the same thing could happen to them, including a high school friend: “After I heard what happened to Israa, I was terrified. I live with my family and I have my freedom to go wherever I want. But what if someone started to spread rumors about me? Will that lead to my death, too?”

Protesters are begging the Canadian government to arrest Ihab for his sister’s murder, since he currently resides there.

Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian” Was Murdered But Her Killers May Walk

Even though laws across the Middle East and parts of Africa are swiftly catching up with the civils rights expectations of the rest of the world, they don’t always change the underlying practices they have begun to outlaw. Highest among those underlying practices is the routine and ritualistic “honor killing” of women who have somehow been perceived to have disgraced or dishonored the male members of the family.

This was the case when Pakistani social media icon Quandeel Baloch, or the “Pakistani Kim Kardashian,” was murdered by her two brothers, Aslam and Waseem, in July of 2016. Although they were subsequently charged with Baloch’s murder, they might be released — because an outdated Pakistani law stipulates a woman’s murderers can be legally pardoned (in the case of an honor killing) when the defendants’ family members forgive them for committing the act.

In other words, if the entire family agrees that the honor killing was justified, then really — what was the crime? 

Baloch’s parents are reportedly trying to establish just such a pardon for brothers Aslam and Waseem, who they have apparently forgiven for killing their daughter.

The tactless tactic shouldn’t work, however, because Pakistani legislators actually closed the loophole nearly as soon as Baloch was murdered. Currently legislation does still provide family members with some power over the legal process — by forgiving the murderers, they can prevent employment of the death penalty.

Here’s the rub: because the loophole was only closed after Baloch was murdered, the family and their legal representatives are trying to say that the new laws don’t apply in this situation. Whether or not the legal strategy will pan out is still up in the air.

Baloch had over three-quarters of a million subscribers on Facebook, and tens of thousands spread out across Instagram and Twitter. Waseem strangled her because he did not want the limelight provided by her liberal views and massive following.

These ritualistic killings are still common in Pakistan, where civil rights groups estimate at least 1,000 women are killed every year. The government contends that the number of deaths seems to have fallen since the new laws were passed, but honor killings often go unreported, leaving many to question whether the updated statistics have any real accuracy at all.

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Where Are Honor Killings Still Legal?

It might seem like an absurd question to ask in 2019, but ask it we must: where are honor killings still legal? Even though the law may take a hard stance against it, in many countries those who commit such crimes still manage to walk away free because the same authorities who are supposed to maintain justice are the ones most likely to turn a blind eye. In other places honor killings are still legal because of blatant inaction or laws that implicit allow these heinous acts.

Pakistan. The country passed an anti-honor killing law in October 2016 when a high-profile celebrity was murdered by a family member. Although many saw this as an enormous step in the right direction, honor killings have continued unabated. Part of the reason is society only watches those who they deem important. Many others slip through the cracks because the crimes go unreported. Another problem is the pressure that law enforcement and government officials face from groups who condone this type of murder as just.

North Africa. Many honor killings take place in this region, but a number also occur in France because of the large North African immigrant population. Shockingly, French laws do little to combat the epidemic of violence as they are so strongly rooted in the Napoleonic Code, which itself treated honor crimes with a great deal of leniency. Many international laws are trying to circumvent this systemic lack of caring by drafting new legislation that guarantees a person’s right to life. How big an effect this will have in the future — if any at all — remains uncertain.

Libya. Victims of honor crimes in this country have little recourse: whereas the killing of a woman who is caught in a “dishonorable” act is not technically legal, it is still considered a mitigating factor. This means that family members of these unprotected women will be treated less harshly by the law than other murderers, and will receive sentences that hardly fit the crime.

Iran. Honor killings occur most often outside of major metropolitan areas and occur most often among minority populations. Access to education is considered to be the best tool against this practice, which is itself pervasive in a society so strongly dominated by men. When a man’s social status is perceived to be under attack — especially because of a woman’s actions — honor killings become much more likely, and the law does little to prevent them or provide adequate protection.

The Psychology Of Honor Killings: Why Do They Still Happen in 2019?

Those of us who live in the United States regard many of the crimes committed in the Middle East as barbaric or inhumane — sometimes we even view the punishments for those crimes with similar disdain. However, they happen for a reason. Women are still marginalized in every society in the world, and some male-dominated communities would rather perpetuate terrible violence against women to keep them subjugated than view them as equals. Why?

Family members who commit honor killings very rarely show remorse for what they have done. Not only do they believe their acts were necessary, but they see them as justified both by the laws of men and in the eyes of their faith.

The reasons for these crimes are varied: a woman might run away with a man after a previous marriage was arranged; a woman might appear in public without a chaperone; they may have been raped; they may be too friendly towards their male counterparts; they may have shown their faces in public rather than wear a hijab. 

While many of us might see the impractical reality of these crimes, even psychologists have difficulty comprehending the human capacity for violence toward other members of a family. All animals, humans included, have an instinctual resolve to keep members of their own family safe from harm. Yet in these cases — some in which women did absolutely nothing wrong at all except wander into the wrong place at the wrong time — a parent’s love for a child might be overwritten by the urge to shirk an imagined dishonorable act.

That means the answer is deeply entrenched in Middle Eastern culture and practice. Honor killings occur, even today, because reputation is important to those who live in the Middle East, as is tradition. Men who live in these parts of the world epitomize the modern concept of fragile masculinity: they strive to be as masculine as possible, as rough and tough as they possibly can be. They will not tolerate disrespect from anyone, and certainly not from a member of the opposite sex.

This is because this facade of masculinity is viewed as a key to one’s success in life. Without it, failure would follow. Of course we know this is not true, but perception is reality to those who commit honor killings.

Unfortunately honor killings have been reported in the United States as well. Any Criminal defense attorney will tell you that statistics regarding these crimes aren’t necessarily falling as time goes on, and part of the reason is because radical elements of both conservative and liberal bias are on the rise all over the world — and the more radical a person’s beliefs, the more likely it is they will perpetuate this crime. What can we do to change the outcome? The answer to that question is simpler: we can start talking.

Four Honor Killings Reported In Phoenix, Arizona

After killing his wife, two daughters and the man whom he thought was having an affair with his wife, Austin Smith, a Muslim, was arrested. Why did he commit such a cruel act? According to the Phoenix Police Sergeant Tommy Thompson, Smith believed that “in God’s eyes, it was all right for him to deal with someone in this manner who had been involved in adultery, extramarital affairs.” He also elaborated that he killed his 7-year-old daughter because she was “weeping for the wicked.”

How does this differ from domestic violence? It doesn’t. But the fact that his justification for his crimes refers to God indicates that this is an honor killing. The sad part is that many friends of the wife, Dasia Patterson, did not believe that she was having an affair. What makes this very scary is the fact that Austin Smith was a convert to Islam and was not brought up in the culture where honor killings are happening quite frequently.

If this crime had taken place in Palestine, Austin Smith would be pardoned, given a suspended sentence, or six months to three years of imprisonment. If this crime had taken place in Syria, he would have to serve two years imprisonment. In Turkey, a woman who is accused of violating the family’s honor is forced to commit suicide so family members can avoid jail time or the act is done by young boys so they can serve less jail time for being a minor.

Luckily (but is it?) this heinous crime was done in the United States. Austin Smith will face the death penalty, life in prison without the possibility or parole or life in prison with the chance of parole in 25 years FOR EACH COUNT OF MURDER.

Until Islamic culture changes around the world, honor killings will still be prevalent throughout the world even here in the United States.

Do Middle Eastern Women Have A #MeToo Movement?

Women across the United States have begun to speak out about the issue of rampant sexual assault and harassment by their male counterparts, and the #MeToo movement shows no signs of slowing down. Most notably, comedian Bill Cosby was sentenced to years in prison, while actor Kevin Spacey has finally been charged with just one of his dozens of alleged assaults. No one can argue that it’s far past time for such a movement, but do women outside of the United States have the same options?

The movement–or similar movements–do exist outside of the United States, but they don’t always have the same impact. Part of the reason is rooted in Middle Eastern culture. In that part of the world, women are supposed to be submissive, and accusations of sexual assault aren’t taken seriously. Female accusers often face contempt, and sometimes find themselves in even more danger.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t unheard of for a woman to be stoned to death for being raped outside of her marriage vows–as if it was her fault. It still isn’t unheard of for family members to turn against a young woman who is even thought to have strayed from the path that men think she ought to tread.

Arab celebrities have also managed to escape the rule of law, even when accused shortly after a crime has been committed. This is especially true of singers or actors who are on the road, and have every opportunity to leave the country by skipping bail or provide a mouth-watering settlement offer to poor women who are more likely to accept.

Women who reside in Iran continue to battle against the notion that a woman must be covered by a hijab. Women in Israel are jumping onboard the #MeToo bandwagon, and rather successfully at that.

Life is a little rougher in Pakistan, where an average of 1000 girls of Hindu or Christian faith are kidnapped. These girls are then converted to Islam and married to Muslim men by force. There are still far too many honor killings. On top of that, it isn’t out of the ordinary for prepubescent girls as young as six to marry men who could be their grandfathers. It happens all the time so families can settle feuds.

Protests are in the works because of this barbaric behavior, and the brutally violent crimes against women are finally finding their place in the international spotlight. But is that enough to effectuate real change?