Opportunities to interview women under threat of honor killing are extremely limited, for obvious reasons. However, Human Rights Watch interviewed four women who lived, for their own protection, in the Jweideh Womens Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Amman, the nations sole penitentiary for women.46 The facilityclean and spacious, though barrencan house about 450 inmates, and its population fluctuates. At the time Human Rights Watch visited, the director, Police Major Hana Afgani, said it held 204 women.47 Of that number, ninety-seven were administrative detainees.48 Of those, between ten and sixteen were under threat of honor killing, according to women we interviewed. One of them estimated that in recent years there had been as many as forty women at a time in the facility under threat of honor killing.49
N. Khalil was twenty-eight-years old at the time Human Rights Watch interviewed her. In 1998, she had secretly married an Egyptian who was not the same level as me.When her family found out, her brothers beat her and then her father made a claim against her to the police; she did not know the nature of the claim.
The police summoned N. Khalilto the police station and ordered her to have a virginity exam. She said it was not really possible to refuse, and she was never told the result of the exam. The police then took her to stay for two days with a tribal leader, after which she went to court.
It was her understanding that she had been charged with illegal marriage, that is, marriage without her familys consent. She had been told that her husband had been deported to Egypt. She did not learn what happened to the charge against her. There was no trial. The police sent her to prison to protect her life.
N. Khalilbelieved that her family would hurt her if she left the prison, but she nevertheless wanted to take a chance, go out and try to find work: This is not a life, she said. Shortly before the interview with Human Rights Watch she had written an appeal to the governor of Balka, her administrative district,50 telling him she did not know why she was being kept in prison. In 2002 he had interviewed her and told her he would arrange for her to leave if she could produce someone to guarantee her safety. She said to him at that time, I have been in prison five years. How can I find someone? He would not release her except to her family.
M. Hassan was twenty-five-years old at the time of the interview, a native of the Zarkha district. She had been in prison since 1996. A Palestinian, she fell in love with a Jordanian man when she was seventeen. After the two had become sexually involved, they turned themselves in to the police because they wanted to get married. The police notified her family and the governor of Zarkha.
When her father came to the police station and refused to consent to their marriage, the police took her to a forensic doctor for a virginity exam. She at first refused the examination, but the police told her it was for her own safety. She felt she could not say no.
After staying at the police station overnight, M. Hassan met with the governor of Zarkha and told him she wanted to get married. Her father still refused to consent. In the presence of the governor her father said, If you marry him or leave here, I will kill you. The governor tried to convince the father to relent, but when he refused, the governor transferred her to the prison.
Two weeks before her interview with Human Rights Watch, M. Hassan spoke to the governor again and told him she wanted to leave. The governor called her family to see if they had changed their minds, but her father made clear that he had not. She believed her mother felt the same way; no relative had ever come to visit. The governor told M. Hassan that she could not leave unless a male relative came for her. If she left alone, in defiance of the governor, she did not know where she would go. Her father was sixty-four. If he dies, she said, I can leave safely.
R. Ahmed was twenty-eight-years old at the time of the interview and has been in prison since 1994. When she was eighteen, her family had made her marry a cousin against her will. She then fell in love with a neighbor; they made plans to flee to Syria. Suspicious uncles followed them to a rented house, and when she refused to go home with them, they shot her multiple times and left her for dead. (When we interviewed her, the scars of the bullet wounds were still visible on her shoulders and chest. She had required five months in a hospital to recover.)
In the hospital, guards protected R. Ahmed, and her uncles were not permitted to see her. Nevertheless, through an aunt, they convinced her not to press charges against them. R. Ahmed believed that, if she relented, they would also. But when she recovered and was sent to meet the administrative governor of al-Salt, her home province, her uncles were present, still vowing to kill her. The governor deemed that her only choice was to go to prison. Her lover was later deported to Lebanon.
R. Ahmed had since written several appeals to the governor telling him she wanted to leave the prison in any way possible. Three months before our interview, the most determined of her three uncles died and the other two had subsequently said they would leave her alone. At the time of the interview, R. Ahmed was awaiting her mothers return from a trip to Saudi Arabia and expecting her family to come for her shortly. She did not believe that her family would lure her from prison in order to kill her.
N. Hussein,originally from the Krak district,was thirty-one at the time of the interview and had been in prison since 1997. She had fallen in love with an older, married man and became intimate with him. The police learned of it, possibly through her brothers, and they came for her. Charged with adultery, she confessed, and the man went to prison for a year. She had appeared in court, and confessed there also, but after six years in prison, she was not sure whether or not she was serving a sentence.
Two months prior to the interview, her family had petitioned the administrative governor of Krak district to have her released. She was refusing to go, however, because one brother had told her that another brother meant to kill her. She said that if she could leave alone, and not return to the family home, she would.
46 These four womens names have been changed to protect them from reprisals. Human Rights Watch interviewed each woman separately on July 15, 2003. No prison officials were present.
47 Human Rights Watch interview with Police Major Hana Afgani, the Jweideh Womens Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre, Amman, July 15, 2003.
49 Human Rights Watch Interview with M. Hassan (not her real name), detainee, Amman, July 15, 2003.
50 Administrative governors have the power to place women in prison for their protection and to authorize their release.