Mar. 24, 2007 -- "This verdict makes my hair stand up, it is insane," said Alice Schwarzer, editor in chief of Emma, reacting to a German judge's decision that has drawn harsh criticism from all fields of the political spectrum as well as legal experts.
"There have been quite a few cases in the past where perpetrators have received milder sentencing because they came from a different cultural background, but this verdict truly tops everything I've seen," Schwarzer told ABC News. "It undermines German jurisdiction and is yet another proof of the ongoing Islamisation here in Europe."
German divorce court judge Christa Datz-Winter saw fit to reject an application for a speedy divorce by referring to a passage of the Koran.
In a letter to the wife's lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, who had applied for such a speedy divorce to be granted to her client Najat L., the judge pointed out that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural background in which is not uncommon for husbands to beat their wives.
"The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by the German Federal Law," she wrote. "It must be taken into account here, that both man and wife have Moroccan backgrounds."
Najat L., a 26-year-old mother of two, wanted to divorce her husband, who she said had beaten her and even threatened her with murder. The woman had called the police a few times when her husband got violent. The husband was eventually forced to move out of the couple's apartment, but he allegedly continued to terrorize her. Even after they had separated, he would not leave her alone and instead threatened to kill her and to kidnap their children.
A fast-track divorce seemed like the only way out of misery. Trying to avoid the mandatory separation year before a divorce becomes legal, the wife filed for divorce with a Frankfurt/Main court last October, hoping that her husband would leave her alone as soon as they got divorced. Becker-Rojczyk, her lawyer, was convinced that the domestic violence and death threats easily fulfilled the "hardship" criteria necessary for a fast track divorce.
"I was shocked when I received the judge's letter adjudicating the case," Becker-Rojczyk told ABC News. "Does that mean that a husband can beat his wife without any fear for repercussion because he's got an Arabic background and because the Koran says so?"
The lawyer immediately filed a complaint alleging the judge should have excused herself from the case due to a conflict of interest. She argued that the judge was unable to reach an objective verdict. The judge expressly cited a verse in the Koran, which indicates that a man's honor is injured when his wife behaves in an unchaste manner. "And, says the lawyer, "apparently the judge deems it unchaste when my client adapts a Western lifestyle."
Wednesday, Becker-Rojczyk received a fax from the Frankfurt court granting the conflict of interest claim and telling her that the judge was removed from the case.
Nevertheless, the judge's verdict has stirred an angry debate here in Germany, and a number of politicians have publicly demanded disciplinary action against the judge.
"This is a case of extreme violation of the rule of law that can't be solved with a mere conflict of interest ruling," said Dieter Wiefelspuetz, a parliamentarian and a judge himself.
Others were quick to join him.
"It's a sad example of how the conception of the law from another legal and cultural environment is taken as the basis for our own notion of law," said Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy floor leader of the ruling Christian Democrats. "Here in Germany, there is no such thing like the Koran or the Shariah ruling. There's only one law in existence here: the German Law and a German judge better comply with German Law."
Secretary General of the Christian Democrats, Ronald Pofalla, told the German newspaper Bild Zeitung, "When the Koran is put above the German basic law, I can only say 'Good night Germany,'" probably summarizing what most Germans felt about this case."
Bavarian Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber declared, "The German legal system must not be compromised, and we cannot allow for the Koran to undermine German Law."
Even Muslim leaders condemned the ruling. "The judge is obliged to rule in accordance with German law. She's completely wrong in citing the Koran. Our prophet has never struck a woman, and we live by his example. She was wrong when she quoted the Koran, and it was not her task to do so."
The woman, Najat L., is still shocked that a man she knew almost half her life had acted the way he did. And the fact that a German judge would ever put the Koran over German law, makes her very worried about what to expect when the divorce eventually comes through. Would it be possible, she asked her lawyer, that a German judge might give in to her husband's request for custody over their children? Would it be possible she would lose that case, too?