Mauritania: Tragedy Prompts Protests Demanding Justice, Legal Reforms

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Marking a week of protests to demand action after the rape and murder of a little girl, the march organised by Nouakchott-based women’s rights activist group “Etkelmi” (Scream) has attracted a lot of support and positive reactions from political elites and fellow activists. About 50 protesters set off at 5pm Tuesday, 5th November 2013, from the Ministry of the Interior to the Palace of Justice. The young women leading the march covered the entire distance in their bare feet. They were accompanied by family, friends and supporters of the victims of recent violent assault, including the husband and friends of Penda Soghe, a young wife and mother who was expecting her second child at the time she was savagely beaten, tortured, gang-raped and murdered, after being abducted on her way home from work at the beginning of April this year.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc0E4f_oD_c]
Once at the Judiciary HQ, there were statements of protest by supporters and several representatives of civil groups, to demand a change to the law in Mauritania relating  to rape, and the entrance gates to the building were covered in protest banners.

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The abduction, rape, and murder of six-year-old Khadji (Yaye) Touré, whose body was discovered Sunday, 27 October 2013 on the beach, not far from one of Nouakchott’s hotels, has shocked the entire community. The tragic details were unveiled against the backdrop of the annual Nouakchott short film festival, which had welcomed hundreds of guests from around the world. The Etkelmi event was the fourth protest in the past week.

The first protest saw more than a hundred people accompanying the bereaved family in a march to the Presidential Palace to demand serious action on the crime. The authorities responded by asking for a list of people who wished to attend a discussion, but no further news has been posted so far. News sites reported an announcement late on Tuesday, that police had arrested a man in connection with the abduction, and that he had confessed to murdering the little girl. There are some doubts about the veracity of this statement.

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Mid-week, a group of Mauritanian ex-pats living in Paris, which has staged weekly protests for the past several months, demanding a fair and transparent approach to registration procedures for Mauritanian citizenship, held a vigil in memory of the murdered child, adding their voices to the call for justice and legal reform.

On 1 November, 2013 the pro-morality activist group staged a protest immediately after Friday prayers in Nouakchott, which was also very well-attended.

It now remains to be seen whether this concerted effort can continue to build and raise awareness, eventually creating enough pressure to initiate the needed reforms. All those involved are aware there is little chance of making any real progress until after the upcoming elections, scheduled to take place on 23 November.

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Mauritania: Married. Pregnant. Murdered. Just 15 years old

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Married, pregnant and murdered at just 15 years oldMauritania: A man in Tevrag Zeina, a neighbourhood to the north west of the capital Nouakchott, is believed to have killed his 15 year old wife, in the last month of her pregnancy. Her body was discovered hidden at the side of their home under a pile of household items and furnishings. The deceased girl’s cousin raised the alarm, fearing the worst because she was aware that the husband had a history of violence towards his young wife, and often refused to allow her to leave the house. Two days earlier, neighbours had intervened after hearing cries for help from the wife, and had persuaded the husband to leave the house and stay with relatives. But evidently he returned and killed her, hiding the body before making his escape. Souce: Sahara Media [Ar]

Women in the shadows

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  • 25 Apr 2010
  • The Buffalo News
Attorney Nadia Shahram’s novel tells the tragic, true tale of Iranian women exploited by ‘temporary marriages’

Nadia Shahram knew when she saw them that she had to ask questions — had to find out.

They were young women, draped in flowing garb and veils, who lingered outside the shrines and public spaces of Tehran, the city of Shahram’s birth.

She asked a family member who still lives in the Iranian city what the women were doing.

“Temporary marriage,” she was told. The young women would take money from men who wanted to buy their time as “brides” of a short duration — perhaps an hour or two, maybe a week, maybe longer. It was sexual availability for hire — with a set time limit. And it appeared to be countenanced by the government and religious authority.

Staring at them, Shahram, an attorney who works in Williamsville, knew she had to find out more about these young women’s lives.

“There were some who just refused to talk to me,” Shahram said, on a recent weekday morning, inside the brightly hued office where she practices matrimonial mediation. “But some of them, they really wanted to get their stories out.”

“I couldn’t sleep for a long time, after talking to those women.”

During and following that 2004 visit to her native land, Shahram interviewed some 100 people connected to the practice of “temporary marriage” in Iran: women who sold their time and sexual favors as short-term wives; men who participated in the practice; family members of the women; and more. She took a second trip in 2005 to continue her research.

The stories she heard undergird her new book, a novel called “Marriage On the Street Corners of Tehran,” which is subtitled “A Novel Based on True Stories of Temporary Marriage.” The book is available at the University at Buffalo bookstore and Talking Leaves bookstores.

Though the book is fiction, Shahram said the haunting lives it reveals are real.

“The cases I have used here, 99.9 percent of them are accurate, real cases,” said the attorney, who was in her late teens during the country’s revolution in the late 1970s, and who now teaches in the UB School of Law.

The book treats a subject that is a real problem in Iran and certain other areas of the Muslim world, said Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York.

“It is real, in Iran,” Qazi said. “There are some societies in Muslim countries — Iran being one of them — where ‘temporary marriages’ are practiced.”

But Qazi said the practice — which he said might also happen among immigrant Muslim populations in Western New York on occasion — is not a true practice of Islamic marriage.

“‘Secret’ marriage, or ‘ temporary’ marriage, is not allowed in the Muslim faith,” Qazi said. “Marriage is a union of two consenting parties that must be public and publicly celebrated.”

Shahram was born in Tehran to well-educated parents who were journalists and publishers — her name means “rare,” or “one of a kind” — and came to Toronto to begin her high school education in the mid-1970s. She chose the University at Buffalo for her college career after a visit to Buffalo.

“I absolutely fell in love with Buffalo,” said Shahram, who as a girl dreamed of becoming an Iranian version of Barbara Walters. “Down the QEW — I loved it. My friends said, ‘ We want to go to L.A., to Hollywood,’ but I loved Buffalo.”

She completed her undergraduate degree at UB in 1988 and earned her law degree from the school in 1997. In her solo private practice, she has handled more than 500 cases of matrimonial mediation.

In 2004, Shahram decided to begin researching contemporary Islam, partly as a way of processing what had happened to the United States on 9/11.

“After what our country went through on 9/11, I was … anxious and concerned to find out: What is Islam? Is it peaceful? Is it violent? If it is violent, I am changing my religion,” said Shahram, recalling her thoughts at that time.

During her childhood in Iran “during the shah regime,” Shahram said, religion was a muted thing. Her parents practiced the Islamic faith, but did so privately, “behind closed doors.”

Nowadays, more than 30 years after the country’s revolution, religion seems different, Shahram said — and, she thinks a lot of that is because it has gotten mixed up with politics.

That leads to many unfortunate situations, she said, among them the practice of these socalled “temporary” marriages, which are, she claimed, ignored — or even condoned — by civil governments and religious leaders in the country.

“One of the most shocking things for me was that ‘temporary marriage’ was promoted and encouraged,” she said. “I saw an advertisement in the newspaper, advertising it.”

Shahram said it is her belief that this practice is a corruption of Islamic beliefs about marriage, which are supposed to be bound by contract-like arrangements. But there is never supposed to be an expiration date on the unions, she said.

Women choose to enter these temporary companionship relationships for the money, and because they have no other options, Shahram said.

“These are intelligent young women,” she said. “But they have no choices. There are no waitressing jobs, no jobs at McDonald’s. No female jobs like that exist.”

The women do it even when such an action threatens their chances for a permanent marriage — often working very hard to keep their involvement in these brief marriages secret, if they can.

“They keep it from their friends and family,” Shahram said. “They usually keep a regular profession during the day, or at night.”

Qazi, at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that while he has not read the novel, he thinks Shahram’s treatment of these hidden, secret marriages performs a useful service in educating people about a taboo topic in Islamic culture.

“Anything that educates people is useful,” he said.

Shahram said she is in the process of turning the interviews that led to her novel into a nonfiction film, a documentary which will reveal this little-seen aspect of contemporaryIranian Islam to the public gaze.

Shahram said she also has started work on a second film project about the idea of “honor killings” — a term she rejects as an incorrect description of a misunderstood phenomenon — that will include interviews with Muslim women both in Iran and the United States. She would like to incorporate the local case of Aasiya Hassan of Orchard Park into that film, if possible, Shahram said.

“The more we talk about it, and the more we discuss it (the better),” said Shahram. “This is like my profession as a mediator. My goal is, everybody comes to know about these practices — and how harmful it is to women.”

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