This week, for the very first time, a court in Europe sentenced nine members of the same family for the honour killing of a female relative. Honour killings, where a woman is murdered for the shame that she is said to have brought on her family, are a growing phenomenon in Western Europe. In December 2005 Nazir Afzal, a spokesman of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service stated that the United Kingdom has had “at least a dozen honour killings” between 2004 and 2005. British police are investigating more than 100 cases of women who died under mysterious circumstances. Germany was shocked last year by the murder of Hatin Surucu, a young Turkish woman who was killed by three brothers because she was “a whore who lived like a German.” A German women’s organization states that “There are no concrete statistics available, but unofficial estimates [of honour killings] are considered to be high. We get calls from women caught in difficult situations almost every two weeks.”
As in the Surucu case the general practice so far has been to sentence only the actual murderers. Last Tuesday in Denmark, however, a jury of the Østre Landsret ruled that not only the man who pulled the trigger was guilty, but every family member who collaborated in “punishing” Ghazala Khan, an 18-year old Danish-born woman of Pakistani origin, who was shot by her brother, 30-year old Akhtar Abbas, on 23 September 2005, two days after her marriage.
Ghazala had married an Afghan man, 27-year old Emal Khan, against the wishes of her father. An aunt, the youngest sister of Ghazala’s mother, who had told the young couple that she would try to reconcile them with her family, asked them to come to Slagelse train station. Her brother Akhtar shot her dead in front of the station and wounded Emal Khan, who survived the murder attempt.
On Wednesday a Danish judge sentenced Akhtar Abbas to 16 years in gaol, and the father, 57-year old Ghulam Abbas, to life imprisonment (which, if one behaves well in gaol, is reduced to 16 years). The aunt and two uncles were given 16 years as well. Other members of the family and friends who had helped to track down Ghazala received sentences of between 8 and 16 years. Two Pakistanis who do not have the Danish nationality will be expelled from Denmark after serving their prison term.
The Danish verdict is historic, not only because the entire clan was punished but also because the head of the family, who ordered the killing, was given a heavier sentence than the actual murderer. Families often choose a family member who is still a minor to carry out an honour assassination because, being a minor, he is likely to get a more lenient sentence under Western law.