Iraq must change the law to protect women from violence and prevent perpetrators from using current legislation to claim immunity, activists told The National on Friday after the death this week of blogger Tiba Ali.
Ms Ali, 22, was strangled to death while she slept on Wednesday after she had revealed she was raped by her brother in 2017, her father told authorities, when he turned himself in and admitted to the killing.
She initially fled to Turkey for her safety but eventually returned home.
Since her death, a recording has spread widely on social media purportedly of her speaking to her parents about the rape incident, in which her parents appear to acknowledge the assault and a male voice tells her to forget about it.
The Iraqi Isen Organisation For Human Rights said that Ms Ali had made repeated pleas for help on Instagram after being threatened by her family. It said that after moving to Turkey she had met a Syrian man and wanted to get married but her family refused to allow it. The group added that she had returned home in the hope of persuading them to accept the marriage.
Al Arabiya TV channel reported that her mother had invited her home to attend the Arabian Gulf Cup football tournament held in Basra in January.
Activists condemned the killing, telling The National that the absence of clear legislation against domestic violence was giving a “green light” for some to get away with murder.
“Under the current law, Teba's father cannot be punished [for her murder], this type of crime is legalised and he will not be taken into custody or questioned,” Inas Jabbar, a member of the Iraqi Women's League, said.
Iraq allows “honour” as a mitigating circumstance for violence and such killings fall in a legal category separate from murder.
“Criminals in Iraq have a safe haven as there are no legal, societal or humanitarian obstacles to stop the perpetrators from committing such crimes,” Ms Jabbar said.
Data is scarce on the scale of the problem but it is believed that thousands of women in Iraq suffer domestic violence and dozens are the victims of “honour” killings every year.
Activists point out that Iraq lacks modern and effective mechanisms and laws to protect victims.
Law needs changing, activists say
Iraq needs a law that identifies domestic violence as a crime and there should be suitable and well-protected shelters for women escaping violence, said Ali Al Bayati, a former spokesman of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.
“We must also amend Article 409 of the Iraqi penal code that reduces a punishment and charge against anyone responsible for committing a crime under the title of 'honour crime.' This encourages such crimes,” Mr Al Bayati said.
Article 409 in the constitution reduces a murder sentence to a maximum of three years if a man “surprises his wife or one of his female dependents [who is] in a state of adultery or finds her in bed with a partner and kills her immediately or kills one of them.”
Iraqi law must also provide equal sentences for male and female perpetrators and exclude the special exemption for male killers under Article 409.
“We don’t have a law that talks about the protection of families and one that gives protection to women and children. We don’t have state-funded shelters to protect women who have run away from their families,” Mr Al Bayati said.