Iraq: Kurdish Christian Child Convicted of Murder

Monday, March 5, 2007

Convert girl to appeal five-year sentence for killing uncle.

ISTANBUL, March 1 (Compass Direct News) -- A Christian child has been sentenced to five years in juvenile detention in Northern Iraq for fatally stabbing her Muslim uncle while he beat her for converting to Christianity, her lawyer said.

Judge Satar Sofe convicted 14-year-old Asya Ahmad Muhammad of murder at the trial’s first hearing on February 7 in Dohuk’s juvenile court. Muhammad’s defense lawyer appealed the ruling on February 17, questioning Sofe’s conclusion that the killing had been intentional.

“The court should consider Maria’s [Muhammad’s Christian name] case unintentional killing because she didn’t intend to kill her uncle,” Akram Mikhael Al-Najar told Compass.

The lawyer said Muhammad’s five-year sentence was light, considering that Iraq’s penal code invokes the death penalty for committing murder.

“Since her uncle provoked her and kicked and abused her, the court appreciated these situations and decreased her punishment,” Al-Najar said.

The lawyer expects the Kurdish regional Court of Cassation, northern Iraq’s highest court, to rule on the appeal within three months. Even if the appeal is turned down, Al-Najar told Compass that Muhammad could be released after serving only three quarters of her five-year sentence.

Muhammad stabbed her paternal uncle with a kitchen knife last July when he came to her family’s kitchen utensil store on the outskirts of Dohuk and began beating her, her mother and younger brother.

Sayeed Muhammad’s Muslim family claimed that he attacked his relatives in order to restore “honor” supposedly lost because his female in-laws were working in public. But Asya Muhammad’s father and lawyer said that the real motive for the attack was religious.

Asya Muhammad’s father, Ahmad, told Compass that his brother had previously tried to murder him five times, angered by his conversion to Christianity.

In the wake of Sayeed Muhammad’s death, Asya Muhammad’s grandparents called for her father to be killed. External mediators later convinced the grandparents that Asya Muhammad’s father had nothing to do with his brother’s death, leading the elderly couple to demand their granddaughter’s death and a large sum instead.

Upon hearing these threats, Asya Muhammad’s parents and siblings went into hiding. Her mother and three younger brother’s have now returned home, though her father continues to reside at an undisclosed location.

Lawyer Al-Najar said that the family is no longer afraid of being attacked. “But if Maria was released from jail, she would be in danger, of course, and she would have to live far from those terrorists [her grandparents],” Al-Najar told Compass.

A Muslim cleric in Mosul, Asya Muhammad’s grandfather attended the February 7 hearing with his wife to testify against his granddaughter. The elderly cleric was present last year when his granddaughter grabbed a store knife and plunged it into her uncle’s chest while he was tearing at her hair.

Asya Muhammad’s lawyer said that if her appeal is rejected, she will finish out her sentence in Dohuk’s juvenile prison. Al-Najar described her situation in jail as “good,” saying that she has the opportunity to study and take computer courses.

But one Christian in Dohuk told Compass that Asya Muhammad’s situation is far from ideal. As the only female minor in the prison, the source said it was uncertain whether jail officials would allow her to attend classes at the all-male school.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct