There is no Honor in Honor-Killings

By Zohre Arzani ,Attorney At Law/ translated by Shole Irani

Thursday 1 March 2007

In Iran, according to the Islamic Penal Code (IPC), a person who has committed a murder of the first degree (e.g. killing with intent) will receive a death penalty. However, under the same law are conditional measures and legal biases in favor of the person who has committed the murder. At times biases of this kind result in a reduction of the sentence for the convicted. For example in the case of a “justified self-defense” (penal code numbers 61 and 629) or the infamous “conjugal rule” (number 630), wherein the law stipulates that should a husband find his wife with another man and kills her or the man, or both, he will be immune from punishment.

In some cases, the courts pardon the perpetrators from punishment for murder in the first degree. For example, based on the penal code 220, a man who has killed his own children, is exempt from prosecution and qesas . In a case like this, the law requires the convicted parent to pay “blood money” or diyeh to the innocent guardian or the remaining kin of the victims. Moreover, should the convicted murderer allege that his victim(s) were mahdur-aldam [literally meaning “not worthy of breathing” due to some “dishonorable offences”], which purports them condemned by Islamic law, their blood is considered halal, thus their death warranted as necessary and justified. In these cases, murderers benefit from impunity. As stipulated in the 2nd amendment of the measure 295 of IPN, when the perpetrator claims that his motive for committing the crime was marital and sexual offenses by the victim, even when he is unable to prove his claim to the court, he is subject to a reduced sentence of “murder in the second degree” (e.g. justifiable homicide). Thus, he is sentenced to pay blood money to the victim’s family.

Although this particular law refers to all members of society, the majority of victims in these cases tend to be females, and the majority of those the courts favors tend to be male perpetrators.

Meanwhile, a mere claim of “dishonorable offenses” by the victim, has provided a safeguard and an easy escape route for persons convicted of killing, who purposefully deploy this defense to divert the court’s decision. This is especially effective when the victim is a woman and the perpetrator claims that he committed the murder in an effort to defend the honor of his family or that of society. The problem becomes even more complicated when one or several of the victim’s kin (often children of the deceased woman, or family members with financial bestowed interest in her inheritance) share the sentiment of the killer, and express their support in the courtroom. Not too long ago, in Tehran’s State Court number 71, a man accused of killing his wife pleaded not guilty, based on his assertion that his wife had conducted “dishonorable offenses”, thus destined to death. His children, too, supported their father’s claim, so that in the end, the court decided that based on the 2nd Amendment of IPN 295, the father was immune from “qesas” and sentenced him to pay her family the blood money. Moreover, according to measure 9 of the same legal code, should a Moslem man kill a Moslem woman, the family of the woman can only demand “qesas ”.

Although, both men and women can legally evoke the “dishonorable offenses” in order to escape the death penalty, it is primarily the men, who summon such a measure after they have committed a fatal crime. Daily papers in Iran are filled with reports, wherein a man detained for killing his wife calls to mind her “dishonorable offenses” as a means to justify his actions and in line with his social responsibility to protect the honor of his family.

Additionally, when the male perpetrator is of blood relation or the next of kin to the female victim, public opinion is more sympathetic to his actions. Such sentiment is so ubiquitous that unless the specific case receives special controversial attention from the media, the court routinely accepts the plea and orders a reduction in sentencing. The most recent of these cases was delivered for a man convicted of killing his wife, who escaped the death penalty by invoking her moral misconduct.

These so called “honor killings” are not exclusive to husbands and wives. In many instances, when a man is convicted of killing a woman, he claims her as sexually and morally “dishonorable” in an effort to justify his actions which were in line with his role in protecting the honor of society at large. It is not rare to learn about the killings of women who are ostracized by their families and have no one to pursue their case in courts. In all corners of our country, frequently nameless women get killed without their names ever being brought up or even carved on their tombstones. As an example, women who turn to prostitution due to economic necessity are considered according to law to be “mahdur-aldam” and condemned to death. Their slayers uninhibited by the law and the fear of prosecution assert “dishonorable offenses” as their motive for killing these women and claim that their action was indeed justified and their moral responsibility. The cases of Said Hanaie (Mashad, 2001) and the serial killings in Kerman (2002) exemplify the ease and commonality of these practices .

A question that remains unanswered is that even in cases of proven moral corruption, are these women and their “crimes” truly worthy of the death penalty? According to Islamic Shari’a law, women are to be condemned to death only in cases of “proven” extramarital affairs (also known as Zenaye Mohsene).

Moreover, is it not time to put an end to personal retributive actions of people who take the law into their own hands? Is it not true that by pardoning killers, we are denying victims the right to fair trials? Are we not allowing the perpetrators to abuse the legal system and to escape punishment? And most importantly, is it not time to re-evaluate the Islamic Penal Codes of law, with a view toward ensuring legal due process and relegating once again judicial matters to courts of law?


1.The punishment of Qesas is based on the concept of “an eye for an eye” and in cases of wrongful death, the perpetrator is subject to execution.

2.According to the Islamic Penal Code (Article 294), Diyeh, is paid as compensation for causing physical injury due to a criminal or negligent act. The compensation is paid either to the person suffering the injury or a blood relative. In the case of death the Diyeh is paid to those with rights to the blood of the injured, which includes blood relatives such as fathers, mothers, siblings or children. The Diyeh or blood money for women is valued at half of the blood money of men.

. 3.In cases where murder is committed and the offender believes his victim to be a mahdur-aldam, the murderer is subject to impunity. In cases where the accused is unable to prove that the murder victim was indeed a mahdur-aldam, then the murderer would be subject to paying blood money for the deceased, but would not be subject to qesas. Should the murderer be unable to pay the blood money imposed by the courts, the state must take up the responsibility of paying the blood money to the family of the victims.

4.Because the blood money for a woman is half that of a man, in cases where a man is found guilty of murdering a woman, qesas in the form of execution, can only be carried out if the family of the female vicitim pays half of the blood money for the male perpetrator (the difference between the value of a man’s life as compared with a woman’s life) to his family.

5. Said Hanai was serial murderer who claimed his victims were prostitutes and as Mahdur-aldam. The same defense was invoked with respect to serial killings in Kerman,


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