Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ghazala Khan

In this blog post I have decided to write about one incident within the last couple of years regarding law and women’s lives in Denmark, that I personally find very interesting

September 5th 2005 18 year old Ghazala Khan ran away with her boyfriend of 3 years Emal. They were both living in Denmark, but Ghazala was originally from Pakistan and Emal from Afghanistan. They ran away because Ghazala’s family could not accept Emal as Ghazala’s husband. On September 21st 2005 they were married.

Two days later they were shot in front of the railway station in the city of Slagelse. Emal survived but Ghazala died immediately. It was Ghazala’s 30 year old brother who had shot them.

On May 15th 2006 the case against the persons involved in Ghazala’s murder began. Nine people were on trial. There was no doubt that Ghazala’s brother would be convicted of her murder. After all he was the one that pulled the trigger, which surveillance pictures from the railway station also showed.

The cases against the rest of the accused, which included Ghazalas father, other brother and aunt (married to Ghazala’s mother’s brother) were more controversial, because it was of course harder to prove that they had been involved and no one had ever been convicted of an honour killing before without doing the actual killing.

All nine were convicted of the murder of Ghazala Khan and they received very harsh sentences from a Danish standard. In Denmark you can be sentenced from 5 to 16 years in prison or prison for life when found guilty of murder. The life sentence is usually only used if the person is convicted of more than one murder. Ghazala’s brother, who had shot her, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Her father was sentenced to life in prison. Her aunt, who allegedly lured her to Slagelse and told the rest of the family where she was, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and expulsion (she was not a Danish citizen).

The rest of the accused, who were all related to Ghazala or friends of her family, were all sentenced to prison between 8 to 16 years. Their roles in the murder was everything from planning the murder to just being aware of plans of the murder and driving the aunt and the brother to and from the place of the murder (most of them were taxi drivers).

From American standards of conviction of murder these sentences might not seem that harsh, but from a Danish standard they certainly are. 4 of the 9 were sentenced to 16 years or more (life), which is a length of prison sentence that is usually only used in cases of very brutal and ruthless murders.

But in my opinion (and the court's) this certainly is a very brutal and ruthless murder, not in its execution but in its reasoning. She was killed only because she wanted to decide for herself who she wanted to marry, only so that her family’s honour could be saved. Of course there can never be a good reason for murder, but the family’s reason for killing Ghazala is so totally unacceptable in the modern western society where everybody’s right to choose for themselves are highly regarded, also for women. And the harsh sentences send that message, and were meant to send that message I believe.

As interesting as the case might be from a strictly criminal lawyer point of view (and criminal law is one of my biggest interests), I find the case more interesting from a broader social point of view, because not only does the case tell us what is possible in terms of convicting accomplices that has not actually participated in the act of killing. It also tells us that that kind of treatment of women and that that norm regarding the self-determination of women are totally unacceptable in Denmark, and those who follows that norm will suffer serious consequences.

1 comment:

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Thanks for sharing this, Anne. National Public Radio has done a terrific series this week on Muslim women in Europe. The series has highlighted the enormous variation among the Muslim cultures in different European countries. It's worth a listen.