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'Honor' victim: Husband issued death sentence after I asked for divorce

By Peter Wilkinson and Atika Shubert, CNN
August 24, 2012 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One woman, "Zara," describes aftermath of her decision to ask her husband for divorce
  • Zara says her husband gathered up to 70 family members to home in Mideast
  • There Zara says her mother-in-law insulted her, husband issued death sentence
  • CNN unable to speak to her husband for fear it may trigger a violent reaction

(CNN) -- Zara married for love, against her family's wishes, more than a decade ago in the Middle East. Shortly after the marriage, she and her husband, along with their two children, moved to Britain for work. There, she says, her husband began to drink, heavily. He became violent, holding a knife to her throat, she says.

"He started raping me, which affected me mentally, lots of stress and the relationship between me and my sons. I couldn't speak out because I learned that to speak out against your husband to anyone outside, it is big shame."

"So, I was struggling between eastern culture with what I learned and western culture where I should live freedom, equality, justice. I found it difficult."

She still finds it difficult. Zara is not her real name. She spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, saying she fears for her life.

During her marriage, she says, the violence continued. She showed CNN police reports she eventually filed, but she decided not to pursue a case, and her husband was never charged. Roughly eight years into the marriage, she ran away and met another man. She decided to ask for a divorce.

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"I told him I want a divorce. I don't want to cheat on you. The relationship is broken. I said, all I want is relationship with my sons."

She says her husband initially agreed but insisted they both go back to their home in the Middle East, to explain to their families.

"He gathered all his family in his house. And I was shocked to see 60 or 70 people at his house. His mother called me by very bad names. She called me a prostitute in front of my sons.

"I remember when my mother-in-law looked at my face and held my sons in her hands, big hands. She told me: 'My son is a doctor. You should hold your head up. Who are you to cheat on my son? Who are you?'

"After that, she told me: 'I will look after them, you don't deserve to be a mother. And my sons were looking at me.'"

(My husband) told my father, if you are a man, clean your shame. If you are a man, kill your daughter
"Zara"

Then, Zara says, her husband issued a death sentence, calling her father in the neighboring town, demanding she be killed for dishonoring her family -- an "honor" murder.

"He told my father, if you are a man, clean your shame. If you are a man, kill your daughter."

Her sister warned her not to return home, she says. But she called her father to hear his voice one last time.

"He told me: 'I miss you, I want to see you.' He didn't tell me what he heard from my husband [about ordering her death]. Because he knows I would run away. I was scared. He said 'come, I want to protect you.'"

Zara was ready to flee her home in the Middle East. But she decided to see her father one last time, even though she knew it might have been a trap. A part of her, she says, almost wished for death.

"I felt rubbish. Just rubbish! I wanted to die. I wanted to disappear because I didn't want my father, or my brother, or my cousin to kill me. My son will carry my shame.

"My father told my mother: 'The problem, I know, she didn't cheat on her husband. The problem is she brought us shame, shame that cannot even be cleaned by blood. I know she's innocent. But we can't clean this shame."

Faced with this impossible choice, Zara says her father realized he had no alternative.

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I gave birth to my sons and I am a mother. I will not give up my right as a mother. I will fight until the end. They will be proud of me and I will be proud of them
"Zara"

"My father sent me away because he knew that I would be killed by my uncles or my cousins. There is no other option. He doesn't want to get rid of me. But he wants to get rid of shame ... that I brought my family because of my stupidity, to be honest with my husband that I love another man. That's my crime."

So Zara's father banished her from their home in the Middle East and sent her back to Britain. Meanwhile, Zara's husband filed for divorce in the Sharia court of the couple's hometown in the Middle East.

This meant she was separated from her children, she says, without her knowledge or consent.

Much of Zara's story is hard to verify with her former husband. CNN has seen court documents and her applications for asylum, but Zara's case workers with a British women's aid agency say we cannot ask her husband for a response, for fear it may trigger a violent reaction.

Zara has not returned to the Middle East since leaving five years ago. When she left, her sister wrote to her imploring her never to return. "It will be your grave," she wrote.

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Zara has now gained residency in Britain and has chosen to leave Islam, a decision that has cut her off from her children, who are now teenagers.

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When she last spoke to them, she says they told her they wanted no more contact with her. "They don't want to hear my voice. It was very painful to hear that. I felt like I got divorced twice: From a husband and my sons. I'm not angry with them. I don't know. But I'm tired. I'm tired of culture and religion. I'm very tired to be a woman. I'm very tired to be a mother."

She is defiant when asked if she believes she will see her sons again. "I gave birth to my sons and I am a mother. I will not give up my right as a mother. I will fight until the end. They will be proud of me and I will be proud of them. I am sure about this."

Zara says she does not hate her husband or her own relatives, even though she still fears they may kill her for bringing shame on the family. She sees them all as victims -- like her -- of a brutal, unrelenting tradition, one that leading Muslim thinkers insist has no place in Islam.

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