FJA 2019 / Shortlist 

Category: Contribution to Civil Rights

Mizar Kemal (Iraq)

“Locked her in a dark room and prevented her from eating.. The journey of an Iraqi woman from marriage to quadriplegia”

December 29, 2018
Sasapost Website (Sasapost, Turkey)

Original full version (Arabic)


English translation

Note: All photos and videos were obtained by the writer from Sabreen's family.

“She was like a rose, beautiful, and full of health and activity, but now she withers and withers, having lost her ability to walk and speak, as well as hearing. He is a monster, this man does not have in his heart an atom of mercy”

This is how she describes her sister, Sabreen, who during her years of marriage was tortured by her husband, who eventually gave up and prevented her from seeing her four children, to begin another painful chapter of her harsh life.

Husband... Imam and preacher of a mosque in Baghdad

Sabreen's tragedy began after her marriage in 2005 from Qais Obaid Imam and preacher of one of the mosques in Baghdad. Her family says he forced her to wear the niqab, prevented her from visiting her relatives, and prevented her from visiting her married sisters who live nearby. Saberin's sister, Om Aisar, adds that his behavior was understood by us as love and jealousy, but over time it turned out that he was practicing his brutal sadism.

The photos and videos received from the Sabreen family show the great and horrific difference between her pre-marital and post-marital status. The traces of torture appear clear on her body, and her sister confirmed that her husband had deliberately locked her up in a dark room for long periods, preventing her from eating, drinking or washing.

At the beginning of her fourth pregnancy, in 2014, she began to experience strange symptoms such as stumbling to the ground, numbness in her limbs, and hearing difficulties. Many doctors in Iraq diagnosed peripheral neuropathy, gradually losing her ability to walk, And the disease caused severe muscular dystrophy.

“We want the state to intervene, and we want the President of the Republic and the Minister of Interior to consider her situation, this is a crime. Sabreen had been thrown and her children taken from her. We want the state to treat her, and we hope to be treated in India, the medicine here is expensive”,this is how Alia Sarhan, the mother of Sabreen, talks about how her husband brutally beat her, held her in a room, and prevented her from seeing her children (Abdel Aziz, Aishah Rakia and Hajar) and even more if one of her children tried to enter her room he/she would have been punished severely.

Om Aisar, Sabreen’s sister, says that since her sister’s health deteriorated, her brother-in-law has been recording videos of his wife in the house where she is wheelchair-bound, and sends these videos to Iraqi officials and humanitarian organizations for money on the pretext of treating her, but actually, he wouldn’t have done that.

The midwife Umm Ahmad, who was also responsible for Sabreen’s giving birth, asserts that Sabreen was in full mental and physical strength, and that she has changed so much. But because of the psychological pressure, hunger, torture and imprisonment she collapsed psychologically and physically, and asks: “Is a man who does this to his wife?”.

Sabreen is not the only, there are thousands of women like Sabreen in our society, just go to the courts and you see the disaster," says this mother, talking about the number of lawsuits filed by the family to remove Sabreen from her husband.

Sabreen's family says she got this video from a person who works with a representative in the Iraqi parliament. The person told them that Sabreen's husband filmed video for "trading and begging" and getting money by the pretext of treatment.

In Iraq, no law protects women

In Iraq there is no law to protect women from domestic violence, and despite the demands of international human rights organizations to enact the law on domestic violence, the Iraqi parliament has not yet done so, the Family Violence Courts of the Iraqi judiciary are constrained in their work, where there are no shelters for women or children who exposed to violence, also, those accused of domestic violence crimes are missing places of detention. They are imprisoned with those accused of terrorism, murder and other heavy sentences.

In a report issued in May 2015, the Family Violence Courts in Iraq showed that 90 per cent of domestic violence cases the victims were women, according to the report, "the court has no privacy in terms of laws because there is no special law on domestic violence, especially there are texts that contradict this concept, including that the husband has the right to discipline his wife."

Although the report attributed the causes of domestic violence to the deterioration of the security and economic situation, which negatively affects the family; however, he noted that such crimes were not confined to those with limited education, but also to the educated and university professors.

National statistics and studies on violence against Iraqi women are few, especially after the control of the Islamic State Organization in three Iraqi provinces and the spread of armed militias in the rest of the provinces. But there is a survey conducted by «Iraqi Family Health» in 2006 concluded that one out of five Iraqi women face physical family violence.

A study by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning issued in 2012 revealed that at least 36% of married women reported exposure to some form of psychological harm from their husbands, 23% reported verbal abuse, 6% reported physical violence and 9% reported sexual violence. While no more recent national studies are available.

In March 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a memorandum to the head of Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jubouri demanding penalties for domestic violence offenses, and the abolition of items that rely on reconciliation, not justice, with strengthening protection measures for victims in the draft law against domestic violence.

Human Rights Watch said in its memorandum that the enforcement of a national law combatting domestic violence meets international standards is an indispensable step in preventing violations and dealing with them. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Iraq in 1986, considers violence against women to be a form of discrimination based on sex.

In May 2014, the United Nations representative for women in Iraq, Francis Kay, revealed during an interview with the agency "Al-Mada Press" that 60% of women in Iraq were subjected to violence by their husbands. "The percentage of educated women in Iraq during the 1950s was about 90 percent, but now it is down to 40 percent," she said.

According to the United Nations Office for Women in Iraq, only 14% of Iraqi women work outside the home, which is the lowest and the most dangerous rate in the world; It means that 86% of Iraqi women do not have independence because they do not have their own income.

A lawsuit in “Abu Ghraib” and a death threat

Sabreen's family says her husband, Qais Obaid, threatened that she would not see her children if she responded to her parents' request and filed lawsuits against him. The family says that the husband threatened to kill Sabrien's father, Abdullah Farhan, if he did not close the case file in the Abu Ghraib court. Sabreen's sister says how he told them that the court judge stood beside him and raising his right hand and rubbing his index finger and thumb fingers together, a movement that meant bribing in Iraq.

The father of Sabreen asks the competent authorities in the state to punish his daughter's husband and asks how he can handle his daughter's right if the state fails to do so. Mr. Abdullah Farhan says: "Will I kill him?" Then he says: "It will turn into a tribal issue and I am a poor man who has nothing to spend on the tribal separation."

But why should the father of Sabreen fear tribal separation more than his fear of state law? Tribal custom in Iraq is a more effective and binding law than civil state laws, and women are often victims of this custom and a price to resolving conflicts between two tribes.

For example, in 2015, a dispute broke out between two tribes in the southern province of Basra, in which heavy weapons were used, dead and wounded among the two tribes, to end this war, the aggressor clan had to provide 40 women, including minor girls, as a compensation to the other tribe, where they are forced to be married to men from the tribe of the opponent.

In a similar incident, in the province of Basra also 11 women have been provided as a compensation for the resolution of armed conflict between two clans; this is a tradition followed by the tribes in southern Iraq for hundreds of years.

At a time when the voices of organizations defending women's rights are rising in the need for the state to intervene to curb the tribal customs that make women a commodity and deprive them of their human value, the head of the Parliamentary Tribes Committee in the Iraqi Parliament Aboud al-Issawi defended these customs, “Iraqi society is a tribal society basically, and therefore the clan act within the social controls that relieve the state a lot of judicial matters” saying to Aljazeera magazine.

The father tells the story of his daughter

Sabreen's father, Mr. Farhan, continues to tell the tale that his daughter's husband was only allowed her to visit them for long periods of time, sometimes up to six months or a year, although she lives in the same city, but at the beginning of her fourth pregnancy in 2014, she was permanently prevented from seeing her parents or brothers; and also prevented her family from visiting her home.

He added “I could not do anything. I do not want to be told that I am trying to spoil the marital life of my daughter and her relationship with her husband and children, and I did not think to divorce her from him and file a lawsuit for that, but he abandoned her”.

It is not easy to sue for divorce in Iraq. Although the Personal Status Law grants women the right to divorce in certain cases, the husband can complicate matters if he rejected divorce. Or at least the case continues for several years in the courts.

Usually, when a woman wants to divorce, she must give up her rights, which include the "advanced and the deferred " and her share of the house. Otherwise, the man will reject the case to force the woman to compromise and accept the settlement, as well as a retaliation for his "manhood".

Despite the difficulty and complexity of the situation, however, Iraq recorded shocking figures for divorce cases in 2017, where the Supreme Judicial Council documented 70,097 cases of divorce, the largest share of them was in the capital through the registration of courts for 27,481 divorce cases.

The Supreme Judicial Council attributes the growing phenomenon of divorce in Iraq to several factors, including the marriage of minors, which has returned to the forefront again and more than in previous years, as well as among the reasons that the Supreme Judicial Council sees as a reason for the increasing phenomenon of divorce is the spread of social media and modern applications and the negative use of them, while stressing that the cases of electronic extortion is one of the images that accounted for a ratio of divorces.

Insecurity, widespread of unemployment, poverty and ignorance are reasons not mentioned in the HJC statement, but they may be key to extrapolating the phenomenon of divorce, in 2017, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) documented the deaths of 3,328 civilians and 4,781 others, except for civilian casualties in Anbar province for the last two months of 2017, when numbers were not available.

The statistics of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council do not include divorces that take place away from the courts. These are not recorded in the official records of the state, and many families often resort to so-called legal marriage, which is conducted by a religious man, it differs from civil marriage being conducted by the court.

This is for 2017; but what about 2018? The SJC's data is not promising, but shocking. There are 10 cases of divorce every hour, with 48,174 cases of divorce in Iraq in the first seven months of 2018.

The HJC's expectations say that the divorce cases will rise to 100,000 by the end of the year, which means an increase of about 30,000 divorce cases comparing 2017, and Baghdad will continue to be the biggest share of the tragedy.

The large numbers of divorces have been on the increase since 2014, where - during the follow-up of statistics issued per month on the Supreme Judicial Council and from the period 2014 to the end of 2017, the total number of divorce cases reached about 700 thousand, we find that the equivalent of 20% of marriages in Iraq ends with divorce.

Civil society organizations defend Sabreen

Sabreen is now in her poor family home in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, where one of the world's most famous prisons, the Abu Ghraib prison, is linked to a 2004 US-led scandal of torture, rape and murder of Iraqi prisoners.

Her father talks about his inability to treat her "I appeal to the President of the Republic to pay attention to our situation, I cannot treat my daughter, I do not have the money for that. I started begging to raise money and buy medicine for her. Please tell the concerned authorities about our situation."

Then, in a telephone conversation with him, Mr. Abdullah Farhan describes his fear of threats by his daughter's husband to kill him, and justified his reluctance to receive journalists or the media to talk about the issue of his daughter Sabreen that his house is watched by people who owe allegiance to the husband.

Sabreen's case was supported by civil society organizations and women's rights groups. In a real move, the president of the Iraqi “Hope Association” and human rights activist Hanaa Edouard filed a lawsuit against Sabreen's husband, who was subsequently detained by the police.

She says: “as nations celebrate World Day against Violence against Women, we hear in Iraq the story of Sabreen and her suffering with family violence. We in women's organizations and civil society organizations have activities in various regions of Iraq to defend the right of women to live and to defend their dignity”.

Ms. Hana Edwar said that the slogan of the women’s organizations in Iraq is the law against domestic violence, in order to protect families from violations and to ensure that the perpetrator did not escape punishment, Legislation is also an opportunity to rehabilitate victims of violence. Iraqi legislators should accelerate the passage of the law for Iraqi women and reduce the incidence of domestic violence that has become horrific.

The husband's narration

In a manner similar to giving the sermon to the pulpit, Sabreen's husband, Qais Obaid, who was released by the Abu Ghraib court judge on bail, responds to his wife's family and talks about his suffering in taking Sabreen’s to hospitals, and the great financial losses incurred in the treatment, and hardly talk about anything but the amount of medical reports in his possession, which proves - as he says - his constant attempts to seek the treatment of his wife.

When asked about the accusation of Sabreen’s family about beating and torturing her, he did not answer the question by saying: "I do not say that men do not beat their wives or torture them in order not to justify beating”. "Then he went on to talk about" false witnesses" as he described them, who wanted to distort his image.

The husband, Qais Obaid, talks about Sabirin's last four years in the disease and how she was unable to serve him, and confirms that his wife was sick before marrying her, but her family hid that from him, because they want to get rid of her.

He says: Sabrin always felt numb in her feet, and feel that one of her legs is cold and the other is hot, and when she gave birth to my first daughter she was infected with a virus in the intestine, and when she gave birth to my son Abdulaziz he was suffering of fistulas in his bottom. During this period, I was spending money on their treatment, especially Sabreen, and my salary was not enough."

The brother of "Qais Obaid" Mr. "Saadi Obeid" did not hesitate to deny the charges against his brother, and tells how his brother treating his wife and his children well, so he did not marry another woman, and says that her family are the cause of what happened.

The husband accuses Sabreen family of obstructing her travel plan to India, and her father refused more than once to give him the necessary documents to complete the file of travel and treatment, and between mutual accusations Sabreen remains patient, home-locked and victims of violence against women in Iraq.

Document of the Medical Committee at the Hospital of Neuroscience in Baghdad proves Sabreen’s disease "Cerebrospinal spondylosis"

From bad to worse

According to the husband, over the past four years Sabreen reviewed 23 doctors; but her condition did not improve. In addition to peripheral neuropathy, she is suffering from "cerebrospinal spondylosis" which requires physiotherapy and natural therapy.

The Iraqi Penal Law does not protect women from violence and may encourage her persecution. According to the law, a man who kills his wife is imprisoned for a maximum of three years only.

In fact, the status of women in Iraqi society was not good during the 1990s, because of the international embargo that resulted from UN Resolution 661 of August 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in the same year.

In 2004, one year after the US invasion of Iraq, US President George W. Bush told a White House gathering: “Every woman in Iraq is better off now, because the rape and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein's regime have been closed forever”.

Approximately 72.4% of Iraqi women in rural areas, and 64.1% of women in urban areas have their husbands' permission to go to the health clinic.
“Thomson Reuters”

That the situation for Iraqi women worsened after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, according to a study conducted by "the charity arm of Thomson Reuters News and Information" in 2013 to assess the situation of women in 22 Arab countries in terms of violence, reproductive rights, intra-family treatment, integration into society and attitudes towards their role in politics and economy, Iraq came second - after Egypt - as the worst Arab country in which women can live.

The mass exodus caused by sectarian fighting in Iraq has made women vulnerable to trafficking and sexual violence. Thousands of Iraqi women have been forced to flee war and work in brothels in countries such as Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

The situation of Iraqi women has declined further after the invasion of the "ISIS" organization of some Iraqi cities. After the organization's control of the city of Mosul and its environs, the organization kidnapped hundreds of Iraqi women from the Yezidi religion and practiced the worst forms of violence and crime, where women were subjected to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and sale in slaves market, These violations may fall under the acts of war crimes and rise to the level of crimes against humanity.

Although the Iraqi state expelled the organization «ISIS » from the cities that controlled it, including the city of Mosul after fierce battles caused the collapse of infrastructure, destruction and large losses of human estimated tens of thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands of displaced, however, many women are still missing. Survivors' testimonies say that the organization transferred many women detained in Mosul to Syria to present gifts to its fighters who are still active there.

The nightmare of violence and disease

According to her father, the cost of a patient's treatment is estimated at 15 million Iraqi dinars (12,600$), a large sum that cannot be provided by poor Iraqi families such as Sabreen family, and between the family's accusations that her husband abused her and causing her illness and between the husband’s denied the charges Sabreen remains struggling with the disease far from her four children and her home, which has been transformed from a dream of motherhood and warmth into a nightmare of violence and disease.

During the attempts of research and investigating the facts and statistics that can be presented to highlight the suffering of Iraqi women by working on Sabreen's story - as a harsh and clear example of the violence and persecution of Iraqi women In a war-torn country, sectarian fighting has destroyed its social fabric - we have been able to obtain family testimonies and stories, we also got the story of the husband and his brother, but the whole story is hidden in the heart of Sabreen, who missed her voice; and she kept her eyes on those around her telling that what had happened was more harsh.

Original full version on Sasapost website (Arabic)