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The Campaign against Article 340

Multiple provisions of the Jordanian penal code can and have been applied by the judiciary to reduce penalties in “honor” crime cases. Article 340 has received the most attention in discussions focused upon legal justification or excuse for crimes of “honor.” Under article 340, any man who kills or attacks his wife or any of his female relatives in the act of committing adultery or in an “unlawful bed” benefits from a reduction in penalty.51 Prior to its amendment in 2001, article 340 provided complete exemption from penalty in certain circumstances, although it was seldom invoked.52 In an effort to make this law “gender-neutral,” a second clause was added in 2001 granting female attackers the same reduction in penalty.53

Women lawyers in Jordan first began to draw attention to “honor” killings in the 1980s.54 When the Jordanian government allowed some political liberalization in the early 1990s, women’s groups grew in strength and number. The Jordanian Women’s Union established the first domestic violence hotline in 1994. Rana Husseini, a journalist for The Jordan Times, began reporting on crimes that involved “honor” in 1993. Her reporting helped bring further international attention to the issue and, combined with grassroots efforts, increased domestic and international pressure on the government to address the problem.

In 1999, the grassroots Campaign Against So-Called Honor Killings created a movement quite unusual in Jordan: internally democratic, carefully independent of the government or any political group, and directed by women as well as men. Stressing the Jordanian constitution, Islamic law, and international human rights principles, the campaign gathered some 15,000 signatures on a petition for repeal of article 340. The campaign cut across the usual family, tribal, and communal divisions within the society, appealing to the national good. After the campaign was denied official permits to march in support of repeal, organizers were taken by surprise when a member of the royal family announced a march for the cause. Held in February 2000, the march, apparently convened by the Palace, drew 5,000 people in Amman. Most of the participants were men; the women’s organizations were not alerted.55 Apparently because the Palace had taken control of the issue, the campaign subsequently lost momentum.

In 1999, spurred by local activists and international attention, King Abdullah established a special committee to review and amend gender-discriminatory laws. After the committee recommended the repeal of article 340, and the Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, 56 approved the recommendation, the measure was presented to Parliament twice, in November 1999 and January 2000, and in both cases, though approved by the palace-appointed upper house, it failed to pass the elected lower house.57

In mid-2001, while the lower house of Parliament was temporarily suspended, the Cabinet passed a number of “temporary” laws, subject to parliamentary ratification once the new legislature convened. Among the “temporary” laws were several granting equal rights to women on issues such as nationality, passports, and retirement.58 In the case of article 340, the “temporary” law amended rather than repealed: husbands would no longer be exonerated for murdering unfaithful wives, but instead the circumstances would be considered as evidence for mitigating punishment. And, in an apparent effort to mollify proponents of repeal, the mitigation was extended to women as well as men.59 For some, this resolved the moral dilemma. Judge Ibrahim Abu Taleb, presiding judge of the High Criminal Court, told Human Rights Watch that article 340 “used to be a violation of women’s rights until [it] was amended. Now it is not exoneration but mitigation” and is no longer discriminatory.60

In September 2003, Parliament went into session with the amended article 340 on its agenda for ratification. The upper house twice approved the proposals, which were subsequently rejected by the lower house again. As of mid-April 2004, the changes in this law—and all the other “temporary” laws improving women’s status—remain pending.

There is a common understanding that article 340, as it stands, does not conform to Islamic law. Jordanian officials and Islamists, including the minister for Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs and the secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front party, told Human Rights Watch that Islam does not authorize a male family member to mete out punishment to an errant female relative.61 The provenance of the statute is said to be the Napoleonic Code, brought to Jordan via the Ottoman Empire.62 Nevertheless, the Islamic Action Front and other religious and cultural conservatives oppose repeal of article 340. They argue that the campaign is motivated by western values of which they do not approve.

Effective Exoneration: Article 98

The section of the penal code most frequently invoked on behalf of perpetrators of “honor” killings is article 98. This statute mandates reduction of penalty for a perpetrator (of either gender) who commits a crime in a “state of great fury [or “fit of fury”] resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act on the part of the victim.”63 It does not require in flagrante discovery or any other standard of evidence of female indiscretion. If the extenuating excuse is established for a crime punishable by death,64 such as premeditated murder, article 98 provides that the penalty be reduced to a minimum of one year in prison. For other felonies, it is reducible to a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years. Moreover, courts may further halve the sentence if the victim’s family “waives” its right to file a complaint of the crime.65 In murders for “honor,” given the family’s complicity in the crime, the family nearly always “waives” the right to file a complaint.66 Thus, “honor” killers may receive sentences of six months—and often do. If a killer has served that much time awaiting trial, the sentence may be commuted to time served and he may walk away a free man.

Though gender-neutral in language, article 98 in practice is applied to benefit only men. “Honor” crimes which are plainly premeditated are commonly considered by the Jordanian courts to have been committed in a “fit of fury” as defined by the statute,67 and the courts accept as “unlawful and dangerous” even trivial challenges to patriarchal authority. For example, a thirty-year-old man identified as Ziad H.who had murdered his divorced sister for being absent from the family home for one week told authorities, “people started talking about us, so I decided to kill her.” A pathologist’s report indicated that his sister, whom he stabbed thirty times, had not been involved in sexual activity. The father of the victim, who was also the father of the defendant, dropped charges. In January 2003, the murderer was sentenced to six months for the “honor” crime due to the mitigation granted under article 98. Having served the time while awaiting trial, he was freed.68

As the above example suggests, it is not necessary that the murder be provoked by any actual proof of sexual indiscretion; in practice, mere suspicion of a woman’s “unlawful and dangerous” act—often called simply “a bad act” for short—may be sufficient proof for the courts. Article 98 was applied, for example, in a 2001 case in which the defendant had killed his sister “after seeing a man leave her house.”69 It was also applied in the 2002 case of a man who had killed his sister after seeing her “talking to a strange man during a wedding party.”70In 2003, a man fatally stabbed his daughter twenty-five times because she refused to tell him where she had been, following a three-week absence. The court, invoking article 98, reduced his sentence on the basis of the act being committed in a "fit of rage."71

News reports also indicate that reacting to perceived stains on family honor with violence will generally be found to have occurred in a “fit of fury” even where substantial time passes between knowledge of the alleged “bad act” and commission of the crime. Where a man killed his unmarriedcousin one month after learning she was pregnant, the court found his “losing his temper” was justified because she had “brought shame and disgrace to her family.”72

In another reported case, a man heard his sister referred to as a “slut” and confronted her. She told him to “mind his own business.” He went to bed, awoke the next morning and strangled her with a phone cord. The High Criminal Court ruled: “It does not matter that the defendant killed his sister hours after [learning of her supposed act]. He was still under the influence of extreme anger, which caused him to lose his ability to think clearly because of the unlawful act committed by his sister.”73

In a 2001 case, a brother visited his sister in a hospital—she was being treated for burns—and she admitted to him that she had had an affair and that she was pregnant. He left and bought a gun. Twenty-four hours later he returned and shot her seven times at close range. As the court saw it, “although there were approximately twenty-four hours between the time the defendant learnt of his sister’s illegitimate pregnancy [and the time he killed her], his soul was not at peace…The irritated soul does not know calm thinking. Therefore, he should benefit from a reduction in penalty as stipulated in article 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code.”74

The reduction of sentence due to diminished capacity is a common feature of penal codes around the world. But in the case of article 98, the man’s “fit of fury” and the woman’s commission of a “bad act” are routinely assumed on the basis of the defendants’ accounts and their families’ waiving of charges. Article 98 should not reduce sentences for pre-meditated murder, no matter what has provoked it.

51 Article 340 as amended by Temporary Law no. 86 of 2001 reads as follows:

1. There shall benefit from the mitigating excuse (Uthur Mukhafif) whosoever surprises his wife or one of his ascendants or descendents in the crime of adultery or in an unlawful bed, and kills her immediately or kills the person fornicating with her or kills both of them or attacks her or both of them in an assault that leads to death or wounding or injury or permanent disability.

2. Shall benefit from the same excuse the wife who surprises her husband in the crime of adultery or in an unlawful bed in the marital home and kills him immediately or kills the woman with whom he is fornicating or kills both of them or attacks him or both of them in an assault that leads to death or wounding or injury or permanent disability.

3. The right of lawful defence shall not be permitted in regard to the person who benefits from this excuse nor shall the provisions of "aggravated circumstances" (Thuruf Mushaddida) apply.

52 Rana Husseini, “‘Crimes of Honor’: One Year In, Amendments to Article 340 Appear to Have Made Little Difference,” The Jordan Times, December 22, 2002 available at (retrieved July 18, 2003). The exemption clause was repealed in 2001.

53 Article 340, as amended by Temporary Law no. 86 of 2001.

54 Stefanie Eileen Nanes, “Fighting Honor Crimes: Evidence of Civil Society in Jordan,” Middle East Journal, vol. 57, no.1 (Winter 2003), p. 6.

55 Ibid., p. 15-16.

56 The Council of Ministers is responsible before the elected House of Deputies. It is the “highest arm of the state” and “presides over and controls the government through ministers, heads of statutory bodies attached to the prime minister, administrative governors and local government councils.” See (retrieved March 17, 2004).

57 According to the head of the Islamic Action Front party, which boycotted the 1997 elections and consequently was not represented in government at the time, Parliament rejected the change in 1999 because article 340 “wasn’t the problem.” He said the issue was “the social custom to protect honor,” and a legislative campaign was beside the point. Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Latif Arabiyat, secretary-general, Islamic Action Front party, Amman, July 13, 2003.

58 “Jordan Amends Legislation to Give Women Equal Rights: Queen Rania,” Agence France-Presse, November 3, 2002.

59 Article 340, as amended by Temporary Law no. 86 of 2001.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with Judge Ibrahim Abu Taleb, Amman, July 17, 2003.

61 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Latif Arabiyat, secretary-general, Islamic Front Party, Amman, July 13, 2003.

62 Ghazi bin Muhammad, “The Tribes of Jordan,” monograph, 1999, p. 443-45. The author is a member of the Jordanian royal family. The monograph was provided by the Jordanian Embassy (copy on file at Human Rights Watch).

63 The statute may be translated as follows: “He who commits a crime in a state of great fury resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act on the part of the victim shall benefit from the extenuating excuse.” Human Rights Watch interview with Asma Khader, lawyer and human rights activist, Amman, July 12, 2003. In October 2003, Asma Khader became minister of state and government spokesperson.

64 Human Rights Watch opposes the infliction of capital punishment in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

65 Penal Code, article 99. Human Rights Watch interview with Judges Mohammed Al-Ghazoo, Abdul Karim Pharaon, and Yousif Homoud, Amman, July 16, 2003.

66 Human Rights Watch interview with Rana Husseini, journalist, Amman, July 12, 2003. See also, for example, “Thirty-year old man receives six months for killing sister,” The Jordan Times, January 20, 2003.

67 See, for example, “Father alleged to have strangled daughter to death,” The Jordan Times, December 22, 2002. In this case, a father killed his daughter who had reappeared after a five-month absence, claiming he killed her in a “fit of fury.”

68 Rana Husseini, “30-year-old man receives six months for killing sister,” The Jordan Times, January 20, 2003.

69 Rana Husseini, “Court tribunals invoke Article 98 to set three murderers free,” The Jordan Times, April 2, 2001.

70Rana Husseini, “Killer receives a reduced sentence following cassation order,” The Jordan Times, September 23, 2002.

71 Rana Husseini, “Father given 6 months for stabbing daughter 25 times,” The Jordan Times, January 1, 2003.

72 Rana Husseini, “Murder charge reduced, court finds victim brought shame to the family,” The Jordan Times, May 17, 18, 2002.

73 Rana Husseini, “Amman man gets one year for killing sister,” The Jordan Times, June 1, 2003.

74 Rana Husseini, “Court tribunals invoke article 98 to set three murderers free,” The Jordan Times, April 2, 2001.

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