London Honor Killing Highlights a Growing Problem

A young Kurdish woman's murder draws attention to a deadly trend.

ByBEN BARNIER

LONDON, June 12, 2007 — -- Banaz Mahmod was just 20 years old and her only crime was getting divorced, then falling in love with a man her family did not accept.

After she was reported missing for three months, Mahmod's corpse was found in a suitcase buried in Birmingham garden in April 2006.

Responsible for this atrocious act were members of Banaz's family: her father, Mahmod Mahmod, and her uncle Ari Mahmod, who ordered her murder after discovering she was in a secret relationship with Rahmat Suleimani.

Banaz was a daughter of Kurdish immigrants who, like many others of Kurdish origins in England, abide by strict traditions. In the eyes of her father and her uncle, by entering into a relationship without their consent, Banaz had shamed the family.

The two men were convicted of murder at Old Bailey court in London on Monday. A third man, Mohamad Hama, an associate of Ari Mahmod, pleaded guilty.

Under pressure from her family, Banaz got married when she was only 17, then quickly divorced and returned to live in her parents' home.

By ending her marriage and subsequently becoming involved with a man of whom her family did not approve, Banaz broke a traditional rule and put herself in danger, said Diana Nammi, director of the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation.

Nammi said that in traditional Kurdish culture, a divorced woman was considered "not a very good woman, a loose woman. She [loses] the respect of the community."

Honor killings occur every day in Kurdish communities in Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan, said Nammi.

Today, they also happen in England.

Nazir Afzar, director of the Crown Prosecution Services, the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the British police, said that 12 similar cases had been investigated every year for the last four years in Great Britain.

Two-thirds of them involved Muslims, with the remaining third composed of Hindus and Sikhs, according to Afzar.

Suleimani, the victim's boyfriend, reportedly broke down in tears when he testified, saying that Banaz was his present, future and hope. He told the court he had been threatened by Banaz's family. A statement from the Crown Prosecution Services said Suleimani was "in fear for his life."

Banaz tried to warn the police that she was in danger several times, but the statements she made to the police may not have been taken seriously. A moving and disturbing video shot a few weeks before her murder captured Banaz saying that she was "really scared."

"What is unusual about this case," said the Crown Prosecution Services' Afzar, "is the evil involved. It is a father and an uncle who sat down and decided that [their daughter and niece] should be executed."

Afzar said that it was difficult to gauge whether or not the number of honor killings had increased in recent years because the Crown Prosecution Services had only monitored such crimes for the last four years.

The number of individuals prosecuted for such crimes, however, has increased markedly.

Banaz's particularly gruesome and cruel case has received extensive media coverage in England, fueling hopes that it may raise awareness of the issue. Nammi said she was pleased with the court's decision and hoped it would deter other members of the Kurdish community from committing similar crimes.

But, there are still hurdles. Even in England, it is dangerous to report honor killings.

Nammi explained that witnesses who dared break the rule of silence within the community were often subject to threats.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events