A Glimpse at “honor” killings, Result of 1220 Cases over 20 Years

By,Rezvan Moghaddam

Honor killing is the killing of a family member (usually a woman) because the perpetrators believe that the victim is a so-called “disgrace” to the family. Common reasons include divorce or separation from the husband, refusal to enter into a forced marriage, child marriage, refusal of consanguineous marriage (marriage between cousins), having a relationship or associating with social groups outside the family which family harshly opposes, having sex before marriage or out of wedlock, victim of rape, marriage without the father’s or brother’s approval, requesting a divorce, choosing a job against the wishes of the men in the family, type of clothing, and homosexuality. With the spread of social networks and cyberspace activity nowadays, internet chatting, texting, or posting photos in cyberspace may be considered disrespectful by the husband, father, brother, or other male family members, which can lead to the murder of a woman by the male family members. Suspicion of having a relationship is one of the most common reasons in “honor” murders.

In addition, there are state “honor killings”, such as women and men who are sentenced to stoning for having an extramarital affair because it is both a sin and a “disgrace”, as well as serial killings of women in Kerman, Mashhad, Qazvin, or acid attacks on women in Isfahan. In these killings, the killers are called “Mahduraldam” (whose blood may be shed with immunity) because they claim that the murdered women were a disgrace.

“Honor” killings are the result of utterly misogynistic views of women and the humiliation of women in society. In addition, LGBTQ+ people are often exposed to physical and sexual violence, death threats, and “honor” killings. Men can also be the victims of “honor” killings by male members of a woman’s family with whom she is thought to have an emotional and romantic relationship.

In addition, if a woman has been raped and the family finds out, the male family or tribe members often consider the female rape victim to be a disgrace to the family and kill her alone or with the participation of other male members of the extended family.

In patriarchal societies, women and children are the property of the men. Honor killings are common in such societie. Not only are the honor killings not condemned, but they are encouraged and supported. In such societies, gender stereotypes and gender bias lead to brainwashing and extreme misconceptions about women.

“Honor” killings are more common in Islamic-ruled countries and communities that adhere to tribal ethnic traditions. In recent years, “honor” killings have become a crisis. International investigations show an increasing trend of “honor killings” in the last two decades. According to the United Nations report in 2000, 5,000 women were killed annually, while the latest report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Around states that 87,000 women were killed worldwide in 2017. According to the report, about 50,000 women were killed by their husbands or family members, most of them by their husbands or ex-husbands, as well as by family members, including Fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, ​​and other close relatives. The motives for the killings were jealousy, suspicion, or a request for divorce.   

According to the report, the number of women who were killed by their husbands or family members is 20,000 in Asia, followed by Africa with 19,000 women, and the Americas with 8,000 killed women. In European countries (50 countries) 3,000 murder cases of women by their husbands have been recorded. Australia has the lowest number of female homicides with 300 killings by family members. It should be noted that the murder rate of women in Asia and the Middle East is usually higher than the rate provided by governments. This is due to some of the murders never being disclosed or being recorded as a suicide in these countries. 

In recent years, more women have become aware of their rights due to increased public access to the Internet, social networks, and the exchange of information and news. The media was previously monopolized by governments and often male-dominated, which made it mostly one-sided. Today, it is possible to exchange information through chatting, sending videos, telephone conversations, and online training, which has increased women’s awareness and caused dissatisfaction of the controlling men in their lives and society.

The results of my study of the 1,220 honor killings in Iran from 2000 to June 2021 are in line with the United Nations report in terms of the increasing trend of “honor” killings. The growing trend of “honor” killings is very disturbing and alarming. The results of this study show a general picture of the honor killings situation in a 20 year period. This study shows that about 29% of “honor” killings occurred in Tehran province and contrary to the popular belief, honor killings are not limited to remote villages and small towns. In Khorasan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, East Azerbaijan, and Khuzestan provinces, the frequency of honor killings is higher than other provinces. In recent years, we have witnessed more killings in Shiraz and Isfahan provinces than in the 1980s.

The highest number of murders has occurred in Tehran province, but compared to the population, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, East Azerbaijan,Ilam, Fars, and Alborz provinces have witnessed the most “honor” killings. Meanwhile, Chaharmahal Bakhtiari province and Qazvin province had the lowest number of honor killings. Iranian women have not been out of danger abroad, as six killings of Iranian women abroad by their husbands have been reported.

As the Covid-19 pandemic worsened and deepened economic and social pressures while increasing social isolation and mobility restrictions, so did gender-based violence. At this time, the lack of access to social protection services for affected women has left women in a closed and inappropriate environment with their abusers for a long-time during quarantine, and women are increasingly controlled by male family members.

The chart above shows that in 2021, 196 “honor” killings made it to the media. It is obvious that the actual amount of murders is more than the sample examined in this research.

In addition to unemployment and poverty, frustration and anger increases stress and lowers the tolerance threshold of people. With limited access to personal space at home, fights and excuses for violence increases.

Other results of this study shows that more than 47% of the honor killings that reached the media occurred between years 2018 to June 2022. 34 cases of “honor” killings in the last 20 years (about 3%) were reported in the media between May and June 2022, but this statistic does not include all cases of honor killings due to the secrecy and lack of access to relevant information. Many of the “honor” killings do not reach the media, remain at the level of local publications, or do not get any media attention. In addition, some honor killings have been recorded as suicides.

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, most people turned to virtual social networks to escape loneliness and social isolation. Some “honor” killings have occurred specifically because of women’s presence on virtual social networks, even a simple chat on Telegram, WhatsApp, or posting a photo on Facebook. In one case, a man who killed his wife for being a member of a telegram group stated the reason for his wife’s murder during interrogation as, “My wife had just joined a telegram group and I did not want her to do so. On the day of the incident, I saw her chatting on her phone, and we had a fight over it. The argument escalated and we got into a physical fight and I attacked her with a knife and killed her.

“Honor” killings are not accidental; they are planned or an execution of a prior plan. The killer thinks about the manner and means of the murder and, if necessary, commits a crime with the complicity of another person. In severe cases, victims of “honor” killings have often warned police, courts, or social welfare centers that their lives are in danger, but have received little to no consideration. In most cases where the police or social agency extradite the person at risk, they are killed shortly afterwards by male family members. Sargol Habibi was only 14 years old when she got married. She was killed in less than a few hours after she was handed over to her brothers by the police. Fatemeh Berihi, a victim of a forced marriage to her cousin who had fled due to dissatisfaction, was beheaded by her husband just one day after she was handed over to her husband. In some cases, the killing of a girl in the family is left to underage teenage boys to avoid punishment because the guardian can pardon the killer.

The tools used by the killers to kill their victims confirm that these killings were not accidental and out of immediate anger. The results of this study show that 251 cases, i.e. 21%, were killed with firearms, even weapons of war. 374 cases (31%) with a knife, 266 cases (22%) by choking. Other methods that have been used in “honor” killings are burning, poisoning, hanging, burying them alive, stoning and beheading with an ax, dagger and sword, and forcing suicide. 

One of the most common causes of “honor” killings is suspicion. Of the 1,220 “honor” killings, 675, or 55 percent, were killed because of suspicion. The domination and sense of ownership of fanatical men do not give women who are suspected the opportunity to defend themselves, and they often see suspicion as a sufficient reason to commit a crime.

The average age of the victims is 27 years and most murders are in the age range of 15-35 years, while the average age of the killers is 40 and those between the age range 22-24 have committed the most honor killings.

The articles in the civil and criminal laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran are contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 630, 301 and 303 of the Islamic Penal Code are among these cases. Article 303 of this law stipulates that the parents and paternal grandparents should not be retaliated against the murder of a child. Article 630 allows a man who sees his wife in bed with another man to kill them both. Women, children and other marginalized groups are not protected by law, especially the Islamic Penal Code. Discriminatory views by lawmakers and the judiciary allow men to kill young women and girls with impunity or minimal punishment

Part of “masculinity” is related to the social status of individuals, which is formed due to incorrect education and indoctrination of gender stereotypes. If this “masculinity” is somehow threatened or diminished, the man may try to regain it. In order to prove his “zeal and manliness”, it will not be acceptable enough for the killer to simply kill. He has to record it and then show it to his peers or walk around the city with a bloody knife and say, “I killed her! Tell me that I washed this stain.”

The law must protect the interests of society and its people regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or race. In order to prevent and reduce crime, the law must be ahead of the society’s culture. Equality for all must be at the center of the law. Progressive laws are essential for the progress of society. Through changing cultures, curriculum revisions, public education, books, and literature, teaching the concept of equality for all and providing practical guidelines at all levels can change blind tribal beliefs and prejudices for the better. Eliminate all discriminatory laws and replace them with laws based on international standards, effective steps can be taken to reduce violence and stop honor killings.

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