Judge Adib Mahaini, the Prime Attorney General, in Damascus, in response to the public opinion case of Ayat Al Rifaai confirmed that murder happened due to domestic violence. In Syria’s capital of Damascus, Ayat Al-Rifaai, a 19-year-old mother was beaten to death. Judge Adib Mahaini said that the offenders were arrested, and investigations have been going on to find out the events of the case.
The news about Ayat’s death circulated all over social media and the hashtag #Haq _Ayat _AlRifai was on top in Syria and other countries as well in which people and activists demanded punishment and thorough investigations in this case. Ayat Ayat, was an underage bride at the age of 16 only to live with her in-laws and husband. Reportedly, Ayat had been domestically abused by her husband, father and mother in law since she got married. Ayat’s parents received public anger as well after an interview with them where they told the incident and declared their ignorance of what had been happening with their daughter. The parents said that their daughter’s husband messaged them through WhatsApp to tell them their daughter had passed away and that they rushed to the hospital to find her dead. The parents expressed their regret for not forcing Ayat to continue her education before marriage and stated that it had been Ayat’s choice to get married at the age of 16.
The story unfolded only after a close friend of Ayat, a neighbor, decided to report to the police what had happened since none of the people involved in the incident confessed or reported the crime. She also says that ever since, she has been receiving death threats from the husband and his family. The neighbor confirmed the ill-treatment and domestic violence Ayat had received from her husband and in-laws repeatedly.
Local media reported that Ayat arrived at Al-Mujtahid Hospital in Damascus on New Year’s Eve. According to Almadinah FM, the Syrian lawyer Rami Al-Khair said: “Ayat was subject to severe violence from her husband, called Ghiath Al-Hamwi, who severely beat her all over her body. Especially around her head area caused by a family dispute between them, which consequently resulted in her instant death.” Al-Khair indicated that the husband’s family transported the victim to the hospital about two hours after her death, even though their house is only a few minutes away from the hospital. Al-Khair confirmed that the forensic report confirmed the presence of bruises on the entire body of the victim, especially in the head area, proving that beating her was the cause of death.
Al-Khair also stated to a local media outlet, “The forensic report confirmed that Ayat was subjected to brutal assault and several blows to the head, and she did not hit her head against the wall, as her husband and family claimed when she was transferred to the hospital.”
Judge Almahaini said that the husband, his father and his mother, who confessed to their actions, were arrested and referred to the judiciary. The investigations aired on local TV and on social media where the in-laws and husband pleaded guilty and confessed their crime. The father-in-law said that he had beaten Ayat with two types of sticks while the husband confessed smashing her head against the wall for about 5 times repeatedly on the day of the murder. They admittedly said that murder happened by accident and that it had not been intended and that Ayat’s behavior was the reason for her abuse.
Social media activists refused to believe the story told and claimed that this kind of murder would be considered attempted manslaughter which according to Syrian law, calls for 5 years’ imprisonment only in addition to blood money.
The story of Ayat Arifaai received public attention and many celebrities tweeted and posted on Facebook protesting this act. BBC Arabic quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: “Ayat Al-Rifai is not the first victim of domestic violence conducted by a husband; she is one of the thousands of Syrian victims who are facing violence by their husbands. Ayat’s case turned into a public opinion one while many women are still abused and subject to violence and beatings, where even their fathers and mothers do not move or react.”
It is true that thousands of these cases happen on a daily basis in the middle east for different reasons. Some reasons behind domestic violence against women include reasons in the name of crimes of honor or tribal traditions.
On July 4th 2021, a video where a teenage girl in Syria’s Al Hasakah Province was executed by machine gunfire was shot and posted online. The victim, Aida Alhamoudi, who was probably around 16 to 18 years old was shot to death by her own family. The perpetrators were her father, brother and cousins who they all took part in the murder. The crime was simply “falling in love with the wrong person”, who did not belong to her tribe and because of that, she had not agreed to get married to her cousin in what according to them was an act of disgrace. Syrian local media outlets reported that the family had intended to share and circulate the video publically to evidence to the public that they had “washed away their stigma” by killing the girl who disobeyed the tribe traditions. The horrific clip is one of thousands of videos that document the violations of human rights in the middle east and Syria in particular, including crimes against women that fall under ‘honor crimes” label, where some are told in pictures, videos, posts and some are buried in silence.
Alhamoudi is one of many ‘honor’ crimes that happen every day that may or may not end up in death. These crimes that never receive the punishment they deserve. Few days later, after the crime against Aida Alhamoudi, another crime was reported where another minor was killed by her parents for honor reasons as well!
Israa Al Gharib, a Palestinian girl was only 21 years old when her two brothers and brother-in-law beat her to death simply for posting photos of herself along with her fiancé on social media. The girl was first reported dead due to respiratory system failure in an attempt to cover up the crime behind. Thanks to social media her story was circulated and a call for investigations was made.
What makes these cases frequent in the middle east is the lack of laws that incriminate these actions. Most constitutions attribute these actions to honor crimes and that is why defendant lawyers work hard to work the case around honor. Crimes of honor legitimization is nothing new to Syrian law as it dates back to its Panel Code that was issued by the legislative Decree No. 148 in 1949 which in turn was founded on the French penal code of 1810 that is concerned with crimes of passion legalization. The Syrian constitution states that the male offender is excused from the crime where his act of killing a female relative is conducted in anger state or surprise to defend his honor due to the victim is being engaged in an “illicit” sexual relation.”
Later on, amendments were made and the new Syrian crime of honor law was first enacted in 2009. It stipulated that committers of honor crimes that are perpetrated due to defense of honor reasons would be sentenced to two-year imprisonment minimum. The sentence was then modified and a minimum of five to seven years of imprisonment were issued in 2011 then ended up abolished completely along with its amendments in 2020.
The United Nations report published in November 2021 showed an increase in domestic violence due to COVID-19. The report was based on a study conducted in 13 different countries and showed that one in two women had been or know a woman who had been subject to domestic violence during COVID-19 spread. The study also stated that one in four women are less safe at home since the pandemic started where % 21 of them attributed their feeling of insecurity and threat to domestic abuse.
However, more strict laws and punishments have to be legitimized against domestic violence and a helpline has to be assigned for complaints and help. It is believed that there are several institutions to help with protection against domestic violence but the society does not adhere to contacting them. In most cases, women are too afraid of stigma, family rejection, and society reaction to reporting domestic violence. Hence, they end up with fatal consequences. After the story of Ayat, many women shared Facebook posts anonymously describing how they are living in similar and even worse situations but who are afraid to open up to the public or report to specialized bodies. Girls are brought up taught that a woman has to obey and tolerate all kinds of domestic and sexual abuse from their husbands and male members of the family. These concepts are demolished more and more the higher the woman’s education is which in turn brings back the blame to underage marriage that is still unfortunately common in most countries in the middle east and other Islamic countries in the name of Islam.
Consequently, a strict punishment by law has to be issued as well to incriminate underage marriage and parents that approve it in addition to forcing their daughters to drop out of college before the age of 21 or even allowing them to do so in high school to get ready for marriage. Social media has been playing a major role in defending and exposing these crimes that are one of many things unfolded and untold in the middle east. However, unless strict zero-tolerance laws are issued and circulated to the public, the story of Ayat will be a never-ending story with different names each time.