Critics see new steps on rape, ‘honour killings’ in Jordan as ‘not enough’
London - Jordan appears to be taking steps in support of women’s rights following protests against its policies but critics say the new moves are not enough.
The Jordanian government scraped a law that allows rapists to marry their victims to avoid being sentenced to prison.
“This is a great achievement that came following thorough deliberations by legal experts and activists for over a year,” Jordanian Justice Minister Bassam Talhouni told the Jordan Times.
Jordan’s women’s rights advocacy group Tadhamun welcomed the changes to Article 308 of the penal code. The move was viewed as an achievement by civil society, which has pressured the government.
Critics, however, called for scrapping the entire provision, which includes a clause suspending criminal prosecution if the sexual activity with females aged 15-18 was consensual.
Talhouni said: “We kept this clause to protect the victim, especially since it is consensual and she willingly accepted to get married.”
In another significant development for women’s rights, Jordan’s Cassation Court toughened sentences by a criminal court against two men convicted of killing their sister in a so-called honour killing.
The initial sentences were seven-and-a-half years for one brother and ten years in prison for the other but they were changed to 15 and 20 years, respectively.
“What the defendants did violates religious teachings that forbid taking the life of any human being,” the Cassation Court ruled.
The move was an explicit message that the court would be taking tougher measures against similar crimes.
“We want to send a strong message to the people that killing women in the name of family honour will no longer be tolerated by our court,” Judge Mohammad Tarawneh, one of the five justices at the Cassation Court, told the Jordan Times.
The ruling “will set a precedent and will become the rule in line of which other verdicts in similar circumstances will be handled in the future,” he added.
Rothna Begum, a researcher in Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the ruling was “a hugely important move for fighting impunity for ‘honour’ killings.”
Begum urged more action: “Jordanian authorities should work with activists, local women’s rights organisations, religious and community leaders, police officials, social workers, teachers and health workers to protect potential victims and to help combat discriminatory attitudes.”
“The Jordanian authorities should follow through on penal code reforms, provide victim-centred protection including shelter for those at risk, and combat harmful norms and gender discrimination that drive such violence through education and public awareness,” she said in a statement from HRW.
Rights activists have stepped up campaigns against “honour killings,” increasing pressure on the government.
Last September, a petition initiated by the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) to “stop murder crimes committed against women and girls” called for the revision of the penal code that allows judges to reduce sentences for “honour” crimes.
Last December, Jordan’s Iftaa Department issued a fatwa stating that “honour killings” are against Islamic law.
“Anyone who kills his relative claiming that he wants to cleanse the [family] honour is committing an act against sharia and should be held accountable,” it said.
“There should be no reduced sentences for a relative [who commits the crime] or if he based his actions on suspicions… because the judiciary is the only authority that is entitled to issue verdicts and enact them.”
In February, around 25-30 protesters gathered in front of the Jordanian Parliament to call for the repeal of the article of the Jordanian Penal Code that allows for perpetrators of “‘honour killings” to benefit from mitigation, Nora Baksh wrote on the website GlobalVoices.org.