This is not a call for violence. We have always opposed all forms of violence perpetrated by anyone. This call is merely a description of the status quo, confirmed by a Syrian court's decision several days ago, a decision that gave men monstrous rights to kill women and ensured they would be treated as heroes for it.

We are talking about Zahra Ezzo¡XZahra meaning "rose" in Arabic¡Xa young woman who was killed by her brother with a kitchen knife. Many celebrated her killing, not knowing that Zahra was the most virtuous of them all.

Zahra has been killed twice. The first time was by her brother, and today the Syrian Judiciary has killed her again by acquitting her brother of the murder and making a hero out of him. By giving males the right to kill females without punishment and legitimizing the law of the jungle, such a decision could not be regarded other than as a call for the destruction of the foundation of the state itself¡Xa contradiction of the very idea of the state by affirming the axiom that "might makes right".

Today, October 29th 2009, the Syrian Judiciary explicitly ensured that Syrian women's lives remain threatened at any time and by any means.

Today, October 29th, which we declare as the International Day of Solidarity with Victims of Honor Crimes, the Syrian Judiciary expressed in the clearest way possible its stance concerning Syrian women, a stance in direct violation of the Syrian constitution which guarantees the right to live to all citizens, male or female. How under this constitution can there be a law by which a man can kill without fear of punishment?

What happened today?

Regarding the case of 484/2009, the Second Criminal Court of rural Damascus province convicted the killer and sentenced him to three years in prison, with a reduced sentence of two and a half years because it was "motivated by honor". However, with time already served in custody it was decided to release the convicted killer right away. The verdict totally ignored the fact that numerous people were involved in inciting the killing of Zahra.

The following is the text of the verdict:

In the name of the Syrian people, the court has decided the following:
"Conviction of Fayez Ezzo of committing a premeditated murder on the basis of defending his honor according to articles 533 and 192 of the Penal Code, sentencing him to three years in jail. Due to extenuating circumstances, this punishment is to be reduced to two and a half years in prison, with time already spent in custody counting as his total punishment. He is to be fined 1 million Syrian pounds (around U.S. 20,000 dollars), to be divided among his legal heirs, subtracting the amount his father and mother should receive as they both waived their personal rights."

The following are portions of the killer's confession as delivered to the court:
ƒ{ I traveled from Hasaka to Damascus looking for my sister who had been kidnapped by a man, and then people started talking about my dignity and about how what happened had stained my honor.
ƒ{ When I arrived at my aunt's house in Damascus, she searched my luggage for weapons/knife.
ƒ{ That same day, I bought a straight razor to kill my sister.
ƒ{ I was sure that no one was inside her house but she. I opened the door with a copy of the key which I had made. Zahra was sleeping on a mattress on the ground. I put the straight razor on her neck. She woke up and then I began to butcher her. She started bleeding as I put my foot on her forehead. While she was screaming, I started stabbing all over her body. I left Zahra soaking in her blood and fled from the house.

During the course of the trial, the examining magistrate noted the following:
"All facts confirm the aforementioned confessions, and disprove the claims of a virtuous or righteous incentive. This renders it a case of premeditated murder according to article 535 of the Penal Law."

The judge who referred the case said nearly the same, stating that "the criminal traveled to Damascus with a specific purpose in his mind which was to kill his sister. The murderer arranged all practical issues to commit his crime, and it is clearly proven to the court that he was determined to kill and went so far as to buy the tool by which he would kill his sister. All of this renders his claims that his sister had fled the house with her lover as null and void¡K this necessitates trying him with the charge of premeditated murder according to article 535 of the Penal Law."

What is truly strange is that the confessions of the murderer have been ignored altogether, as well as other facts well known by the court such as that Fayez Ezzo had actually tried previously to enter the shelter in which Zahra was living, hiding a hatchet under his clothes only to be discovered by the police at the gate of the shelter.

So, two judges had confirmed that this was a premeditated murder and not an "honor crime". Yet the sentence was reduced to only two and a half years through a legal loophole in article 44, resulting in the murderer's immediate release with time served.

It cannot escape our attention that not just the investigation but also the bill of indictment of the killer's lawyer and the killer himself all confirm that the victim had been kidnapped and raped. Moreover, Zahra was a child when she was kidnapped, only 16 years old. She had been raped only one day before the police succeeded in finding her.

This is the bitter truth that came to light in a country with a supposedly modern state and constitution in place. It is a bitter truth because the court's decision ignored the facts, the confession of the murderer, and the documents of the investigating and the referring judges.

This can only be understood as a call for all Syrian males to decide life and death as they see fit, and in return face punishment so slight (if any at all) that it infringes on all the rights guaranteed by the law, the constitution, and religion.

The Ministry of Justice must answer for how such a terrible thing could have actually happened. Is this the kind of justice the citizens want? We call for an internal investigation within the Ministry to determine how such an atrociously unjust decision was made.

Our responsibility does not stop there. We will continue to work day and night to eliminate this kind of shameful persecution that some want Syria to be blighted with forever.

The real murderer is male chauvinism cloaked in spurious religious and moral values that aim at hiding the true face of male hatred and enslavement of women. This suppose "male culture" turns men into creatures obsessed with sexuality and domination.

It is the culture of equality that makes men and women human, and makes them partners for life. Males truly become men only when they abandon the culture of violence and discrimination.

We can state today publicly and openly that lawyer and activist Maha Al-Ali, attorney to Zahra's husband and also in fact attorney to Zahra herself, has been offered bribes to abandon this lawsuit by a person charged with this task by Zahra's family. Ms. Al-Ali received death threats from Zahra's father and brother, and some of these threats were delivered inside the courtroom. But they did not have the desired effect, and she devoted herself ever more to this cause, defending victims of honor crimes. Indeed, threatening Maha is not only directed at her, but towards everyone in Syria who stands for and cherishes the true meaning of honor.

In the case of any attack on Ms. Al-Ali, we shall hold the Syrian government and the Bar Association completely responsible. Ms. Maha Al-Ali is not alone.

Zahra's soul will not be at peace until this shameful reality in Syrian courts is eliminated once and for all. She will not rest until article 548 of the Penal Code is abolished and they issue a complete ban on the application of article 192 to so-called "honor crimes". She will never rest in peace, and neither shall we, until we get rid of this shame; this shame that is guarded by those who peddle religion and protected by a government that is a signee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)! The government, out of utter hypocrisy, ratified these international laws, while actually pursuing more and more discrimination and legitimizing violence against women.

Lest we should forget Zahra, and any other woman killed by this dagger of shame, we declare today October 29th as the International Day of Solidarity with Victims of Honor Crimes. We will mark this day each year as a day of mourning until the Syrian government decides to put an end to this vicious cycle of discrimination, hypocrisy, and shameful conduct by the courts.

Zahra¡K it is not time yet to say goodbye. We will not make our final farewell until all elements supporting these heinous crimes are abolished from laws, institutions, traditions, societies and everywhere. We will not say our final farewell until the criminals¡Xweather those wielding knives, those crafting the disgraceful laws that legitimize these crimes, or those who market such murders¡Xare put away once and for all.

Only then can you and the other victims of honor crimes truly rest in peace, assured that your blood has made roses bloom in your and our country: Syria.

By Bassam AlKadi, 5/11/2009, (In Syria, Life is for Males Only. Women: Arm Yourselves to Defend Your Lives! )

Translated by Basel Jbaily, Tyler Golson

available in Arabic