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Some suffering wives look to husband killing

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

TEHRAN, Iran -- Married at age 13 to a man 18 years her senior, Ferdows was the wife that Iranian society expected her to be: obedient, and silent, despite the beatings and humiliation.

But after 30 years of marriage, she had had enough. She arranged to have her husband, Hedayat, killed, authorities say.

Ferdows, who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death, is one of at least 20 Tehran women accused of murdering their husbands since February. Initially, the reports of the slayings were largely unnoticed. That changed as the number rose and Iranians began to see the killings as signs of social stresses.

"Husband killing is a new phenomenon in Iran's male-dominated society. It means economic hardships and social crises are reaching a crisis point," said Mohammad Ahmadi, a sociologist.

He cited a number of problems in Iranian society that lead to frustration and desperation: forced marriages, philandering by husbands, impotence, poverty and no healthy entertainment in a country whose Islamic laws ban socializing between men and women who are not closely related.

Others blame restrictive divorce laws that leave women feeling murder is the only way out of a bad marriage.

'Always beat me'

In Ferdows case, she accused her husband of abuse.

"During 30 years of matrimonial life, Hedayat always beat me. He was a doubter and skeptical of everything and didn't trust me. He had made the life hell for me," Ferdows told authorities, who have identified her only by her first name.

Ferdows paid a man the equivalent of $3,750 to stab her husband to death three years ago, prosecutors said. The crime wasn't exposed until this February, when police found her husband's remains in an abandoned building. She had told people her husband abandoned her.

Both Ferdows and the hit man were convicted and sentenced at a closed trial in April. Word of the outcome leaked out a few weeks ago.

The punishment for women who murder their husbands is death. Some have already been convicted and executed. Others are on death row and some are awaiting trial. They come from all social classes.

"Divorce is the first solution for women to get rid of an undesirable troubled life. But why did these women ignore this option and resort to something that carries the death sentence?" asked the monthly magazine Zanan (Women).

Complex divorce laws

While Iranian men can divorce almost at will, a woman who wants a divorce must go through a legal battle that can take up to 20 years, said lawyer Sara Irani. Even then, she said, it might end with the woman failing to dissolve the marriage.

Under Iran's Islamic laws, a man is allowed to keep four wives at one time, a right not granted to women.

Even if a husband is having an affair, he can claim to have undertaken a "sigheh," or temporary marriage. It's a contract allowed under Iranian law that allows a man and woman to be "married" for any length of time they choose. Critics call it a form of legal prostitution.

Nor does a wife trapped in a violent marriage have much recourse against her husband.

"A woman has to bring four men witnesses confirming violence against her by her husband," Irani said. "How is a woman in Iran expected to keep four men in her bedroom to witness her husband beating her?"

Irani, who is also a writer on women's affairs, said that husband killing is the "outcome of humiliation and discrimination against women" and that the recent surge in cases should pressure the country's leaders to improve legal protection for women.


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