Critics see new steps on rape, ‘honour killings’ in Jordan as ‘not enough’

Sunday 07/05/2017
‘Not enough’. Jordanian women take part in a demonstration in Amman to press for reforms. (AFP)

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