Rape map and murdered women – welcome to South Africa’s Republic of Sexual Abuse

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It has its own currency, passports and a blood-stained map, but this is no ordinary country. Welcome to the Republic of Sexual Abuse, the creation of a group of campaigners in South Africa, where a woman is murdered every three hours.

The fictional country is the centrepiece of an exhibition held in a Johannesburg mall that seeks to raise awareness of South Africa’s high levels of violence against women – and inspire action against it.

It was thought up by Roanna Williams, executive creative director of the advertising agency Black River FC, after she saw women protesting against the violence from her office window.

“Most women in South Africa have a story of sexual abuse,” said Williams at the exhibition, which opened on Nov. 26 to coincide with the United Nations’ 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence.

“We are not just trying to shock, we are showing that this is everyone’s problem and we all need to act, not just during 16 Days of Activism, but 365 days of the year.”

Recent murders, rapes and kidnappings of South African women sparked mass protests in September where women called for justice for rape survivors.

Soon after, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a five-point plan to tackle violence against women, including media campaigns, strengthening the criminal justice system, and providing training for healthcare workers and counsellors.

The exhibition, run together with women’s rights group People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), includes a huge red map painted in fake blood with all the excuses men use to rape women – including “I was drunk”.

At the back of the exhibition, a warning sign marks the entrance to a bedroom where blood stained sheets hide behind a curtain. Recordings of cries and slaps fill the room.

“This room is where reality kicks in for people in the exhibition,” said Patricia Naha, a volunteer and counsellor with POWA, adding it showed women were not safe anywhere.

About 3,000 women in South Africa were murdered in 2018 – one every three hours and more than five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

The number of recorded murders of women went up 11% between 2017 and 2018.

A video advertising South Africa as a tourist destination is played on repeat, with images of the country overlaid with jarring narration about sexual violence.

“Retreat to the spectacular bushveld,” a voice is heard saying over a video of zebra running through a national park. “Where women are dumped after being murdered,” the sentence continues.

Some men visiting the exhibition get defensive, said Clayton Swartz, Black River FC’s art director, but many leave taking pamphlets and asking how they can help.

“I am proud to be South African, but not with these rape stats,” said Swartz. “We want to encourage everyone to speak out.”

The exhibition, which has so far attracted thousands of visitors, is open until Dec. 10 at Rosebank Mall and the organisers are seeking corporate sponsors to help them take it across the country.

(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Anger erupts in Spain as five men acquitted of gang-raping teenager

Anger erupts in Spain as five men acquitted of gang-raping teenager
By Sophie Davies

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women’s rights campaigners in Spain called for a change in the law on Friday after a court in Barcelona cleared five men of raping a 14-year-old girl and jailed them for the lesser charge of sexual abuse, ruling that they did not use violence.

The men, who denied the charges, took turns to have sex with the teenager after a party in Manresa, a town to the north of Barcelona, in October 2016, the court heard.

On Thursday they were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in jail for sexual abuse, avoiding more serious charges of rape or sexual assault because the court said the girl was drunk and unconscious, did not fight back and the men were not violent.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, took to social media to express her anger at the verdict, saying it was “outrageous” and the result of a patriarchal judicial system.

“I’m not a judge and I don’t know how many years in prison they deserve, but what I do know is that this is not abuse, it is rape!” she wrote on Twitter.

The verdict has reignited a debate over the Spanish judiciary’s treatment of women, which intensified with the 2016 “Wolf Pack” case, in which an 18-year-old woman was gang-raped during the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.

The men, who included a former policeman and a former soldier, had shared videos of the incident in a WhatsApp group and joked about it afterwards.

In June, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled the five accused were guilty of rape not the lesser crime of sexual abuse, increasing their sentence to 15 years rather than the nine years they had been given for sexual abuse by a regional court.

Outrage and protests over the initial verdict prompted a government promise to change the law, but critics say the Manresa case shows how the penal code is still outdated.

“It makes no sense that the law continues to distinguish between abuse and sexual assault,” Nuria Gonzalez, a Barcelona-based human rights lawyer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Everything that happens after a woman says no, or says nothing at all, or which happens through violence and intimidation, goes against the will of the victim and is a sexual assault in which there is no room for mitigating or lower grades,” she added.

Spanish law requires that the plaintiff in a rape case must present evidence of intimidation or specific violence.

“Any attack on sexual liberty should be considered violence,” Graciela Atencio, a women’s rights activist and director of the website Feminicidio.net, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s important that they introduce the term rape into the penal code for all attacks that involve penetration and that any sexual behaviour without consent be considered sexual violence.”

(Editing by Ros Russell ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’
By Raya Jalabi

SHARYA CAMP, Iraq (Reuters) – Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death will mean nothing to 19-year-old rape victim Jamila unless the Islamic State militants who enslaved her are brought to justice.

Jamila, who asked not to be identified by her last name, is one of thousands of women from the Yazidi minority religion who were kidnapped and raped by IS after it mounted an assault on the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in August 2014.

“Even if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, it doesn’t mean Islamic State is dead,” Jamila told Reuters outside the tent that is now her temporary home in the Sharya camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

“This doesn’t feel like justice yet,” she said. “I want the men who took me, who raped me, to stand trial. And I want to have my voice heard in court. I want to face them in court … Without proper trials, his death has no meaning.”

Baghdadi, who had led IS since 2010, detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.

Inspired by his edicts to enslave and slaughter Yazidis, whom IS regard as infidels, his followers shot, beheaded and kidnapped thousands in a rampage which the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against them.

Along with thousands of other women and children, Jamila said she was enslaved by the militants and kept in captivity for five months in the city of Mosul along with her sister.

She was just 14 when she was seized. But her problems did not end after she and her sister managed to escape when, she said, their guards were high on drugs.

“When I first came back, I had a nervous breakdown and psychological problems for two years, so I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

Now instead of working or catching up on her years of lost schooling, she looks after her mother, with whom she shares her cramped tent at the camp.

“My mother can’t walk and has health problems so I have to stay and take care of her because my older siblings are in Germany,” she said.

NO PLANS TO GO HOME

The prospect of going home to Sinjar in northern Iraq is not an option for Jamila, and many others. The city still lies in ruin four years after the IS onslaught, and suspicion runs deep in the ethnically mixed area.

“Sinjar is completely destroyed. Even if we could go back, I wouldn’t want to because we’d be surrounded by the same Arab neighbors who all joined IS in the first place, and helped them kill us (Yazidis),” she said.

Thousands of men are being tried in Iraqi courts for their ties to IS. Iraq has so far not allowed victims to testify in court, something community leaders and human rights groups say would go a long way in the healing process.

“It is deplorable that not a single victim of Islamic State’s horrific abuses including sexual slavery has gotten their day in court,” said Belkis Wille, Iraq Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Iraq’s justice system is designed to allow the state to exact mass revenge against suspects, not provide real accountability for victims.”

For some of the nearly 17,000 Yazidis at the Sharya camp, Baghdadi’s death was a first step in that direction though they fear the IS fighters who are still alive.

Mayan Sinu, 25, can dream of a new life after the camp as she and her three children have been granted asylum by Australia. But she also wants the men who shot her husband in the legs and dragged him off to be brought to justice. He has been missing since the incident five years ago.

“I hope Baghdadi is suffering more than we ever did, and my God we suffered,” said Sinu. “I wish he (Baghdadi) hadn’t blown himself up so I could have slaughtered him myself with my bare hands.”

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case
DHAKA (Reuters) – The principal of a religious school in Bangladesh was among 16 people sentenced to death on Thursday for the murder of a teenage girl who refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said.

The perpetrators poured kerosene over Nusrat Jahan, 18, and set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in April in the southeastern district of Feni. Police said in their charge-sheet the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.

“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict.

He said the defense lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide.

Defense lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said all the convicts will challenge the verdict in the High Court.

Jahan’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had met her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

Two female classmates and two local leaders of her party were among those convicted.

After the murder, the government instructed some 27,000 educational institutions to form committees to prevent sexual assaults.

“I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict.

Jahan’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals.

“We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rape cases in recent months, with 217 women and children raped in September, the highest in any single month since 2010, according to a report published by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.

Many more cases go unreported because women fear being stigmatized. Rights activists attribute the increasing number of rapes to a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity, moral decadence, and people of influence protecting suspected rapists for political reasons.

Even when survivors file a complaint, prosecution is very rare and takes years to conclude.

“This verdict has set an example. It shows that with utmost sincerity we can ensure justice within our existing system,” said the group’s head, Ayesha Khanam.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani & Simon Cameron-Moore)

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt
By Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing

CAIRO (Reuters) – The 17-year-old South Sudanese refugee finally managed to escape after three months as a prisoner in a Cairo apartment where she was repeatedly gang raped, only to realize that she had become pregnant by one of her attackers.

She is one of a growing number of African migrant and refugee women in the Egyptian capital who report abuse, in what rights groups say has become an epidemic of sexual violence that has worsened in recent months.

Reuters met five women from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia at a community center in Cairo, each of whom said she was a victim of violent sexual assault.

The 17-year old South Sudanese woman said she was snatched by strangers in a poor neighborhood and brought by a taxi to another area, where a man locked her up in an apartment for three months and repeatedly raped her with friends.

“I tried several times to escape,” she said, adding that she finally managed to flee when her captor left a key in the house. She asked not to be identified but agreed to be filmed provided that her face was not visible.

A Sudanese woman who gave her name as Bakhtia said she was assaulted by a stranger on the street in what then became a gang attack.

“He touched me, after which I slapped him on the face,” she said. “Immediately, around four other people (came over), each one grabbing me from a different body part. I tried to defend myself, but how can I defend myself?”

Three other women who spoke to Reuters said they were attacked while cleaning houses as domestic workers. Two were raped and one sexually assaulted. They asked not to be filmed or quoted directly.

The United Nations estimates around 500,000 migrants, half of them refugees, live in Egypt. Many arrived aiming to reach Europe via Israel or by boat to Turkey, routes that have been largely closed by tougher security measures.

Jobs are scarce. With austerity measures having driven up inflation since last year, many have found it more difficult to pay rent. Increasingly they have become homeless or are forced to share rooms with strangers, making them more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Cairo was named most dangerous megacity for women in an international perception poll carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after seven men were arrested for attacking women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations in 2014. Tougher sentences have been imposed for sex crimes.

But rights groups say such measures have done little to deter attacks against African migrants, who often have no recourse to the police or family to protect them.

“From two to three (complaints of abuse) a week they were going to seven a week,” said Laurent De Boeck, head of the International Organization for Migration in Egypt, who blamed the surging cost of renting a room.

“The situation of them not having protection of a house, made them more vulnerable to the situation because they were basically in families in the street.”

Fatma Abdelkader, who works with local aid group Tadamon which runs the community center, said cases of sex abuse had increased in the past six months, with attackers seeming to seek out African women as prey.

“The darker the skin tone, the more susceptible the women are to violence,” she said.

(Reporting by Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Graff)

Two years on, Hollywood reflects on #MeToo changes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – This week marks two years since the New York Times and the New Yorker published accounts by multiple women accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, fueling the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and a drive to empower women who work behind and in front of the camera.

Weinstein is due to stand trial in January on charges of rape and predatory assault of two women. He denies any non-consensual sex.

Reuters asked actors, directors and producers how much Hollywood has changed since October 2017. Below are their replies, edited for length and clarity.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS

“I’d like to say that I feel like men might be beginning to behave themselves a little bit better, and I say maybe. I’m not saying they have definitively, but there is a new way of communicating, or a slightly new awareness, an awareness shift that’s happened. It’s in process. This job is not done. It will never be done, but I think there’s a way of communicating that has improved, hopefully.”

PATRICIA ARQUETTE

“The #MeToo movement – my sister was one of the first people to come out – and I think it’s had a ripple effect all across the world, beyond Hollywood. Luckily there is more representation of women and women of color on television than there was before, but it’s still not really equal yet … Activists and people have been trying to get this work done for a long, long time, but the more we have this conversation, the more we ask for it, the more we talk about the need for it, the better. You have movies like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Black Panther’ busting box office records and then suddenly, all of a sudden, the world is like ‘Oh, right, they could be successful.’ The business is sometimes the last one to learn.”

BRAD PITT

“We seem to work as a pendulum. We swing too far one way, then we find that sweet spot, and then we go too far back and we keep on this swing. But what is going on, which is positive, is that we’re recalibrating our relationships, behaviors and workplace. It’s long overdue and needed, and it’s a good thing.”

MICHELLE WILLIAMS

“I’ve seen so many changes within my industry, but not just within my industry … I see it at my daughter’s school. I see it in my friends’ places of employment. I see it really everywhere, and it gives me great faith that the world that these girls are growing up in is going to be different than the one that you and I grew up in.”

ANGELINA JOLIE

“I think we have very far to go. I think even in Hollywood there should have been an independent inquiry… There’s a lot of focus about what they say women want and I would say it’s not what we want. It’s what we’d like not to be done to us. Do not limit us to have an education, do not harm us whether it be at war or in our own homes, do not oppress us or try to control us, do not limit our possibilities as human beings and just let us be.”

KRISTEN STEWART

“There’s this solidarity that is providing women with a chance to start finally telling their own stories and not being used as sort of tools to tell their stories through other people … There are so many untapped resources and ways in which we can inhabit our own stories and repossess our narrative. (It) is fully doable right now and for the first time, like ever, so it is an exciting time for women in film, like, enormously.”

CARA DELEVINGNE

“I think the #MeToo movement has changed a lot, but like a lot of hashtag movements, the problem is that when you do a hashtag or something, people think it’s fixed. But it’s not. It hasn’t really changed anything, because it’s still happening.”

ELISABETH MOSS

“For me (on movie ‘The Kitchen,’) we had (director) Andrea (Berloff), three female leads, we also had (the) first female (director of photography), and it’s almost one of those things now that’s become natural because these women are the best at what they do, and that’s why they were there and not because they’re women … It’s just becoming more normalized, which I think is the best part of it.”

NICOLE KIDMAN

“Charlize (Theron), Margot (Robbie) and I just did a film – ‘Bombshell’ – which is about instigating change in terms of sexual harassment … We hope that constantly talking about it changes it for the generations to come.”

JULIANNE MOORE

“Because of Time’s Up, (New York) Governor (Andrew) Cuomo has adopted the Time’s Up safety agenda, which is really, really significant for every woman in New York state. New York is a much less progressive state than California, so when Time’s Up New York got together we thought, ‘What do we address here in our home state?’ And we’ve really been able to make changes (including) extend the statute of limitations on assault.”

MICHELLE PFEIFFER

“I think there’s been such a seismic shift in awareness in just a year. I think there’s a long way to go but I do think quite a bit has happened already. Already all the conversations I’ve had with women, we just didn’t have those conversations before.”

MELISSA MCCARTHY

“I think we’re at the beginning of a movement, and I think we have to keep pushing. You can talk a good game, but you have to wait until it changes, so we’re not there yet. We will be. You’ve got to root for it. I’m a hopeful person. I have two daughters; I have to be. I’ll fight. I’ll fight until I can’t fight anymore.”

ELLE FANNING

“For me, being a young woman in the industry and hearing actresses tell their story and being able to hear those voices and know that it’s OK to speak your truth on things and stand up for what’s right and say no – it’s a great community that has really formed because of this.”

KIRSTIE ALLEY

“When we did ‘Cheers,’ … if someone was in the bathroom, someone would kick open the door and we would take pictures, but the intent was in fun. And if the intent is to hold you hostage or not give you a job without sexual favors, you know the difference. But I think that the pendulum swung and now it needs to swing and balance out because people are not all ill-intentioned.”

JULIETTE BINOCHE

“I have been quite free, always, in my choices in life. I didn’t need #MeToo to do that, but I think #MeToo’s movement was very important for some people, for some women to speak out.”

RUTH NEGGA

“You really shouldn’t be able to get away with inequality anymore. The thing is that you’ve got to keep vocal about it; you’ve got to be vigilant. It’s not something that can ever be really done and dusted until there is equality and everybody’s voice is heard.”

RICHARD LINKLATER

“It’s just good everybody’s aware. I mean, out with the old, right? The old status quo can’t hold. There has to be these evolutionary leaps in what is acceptable.”

(Reporting by Rollo Ross, Alicia Powell, Sarah Mills, Jane Ross and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Myanmar troops’ sexual violence against Rohingya shows ‘genocidal intent’: U.N. report

FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of a burned Rohingya village near Maungdaw, north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -Sexual violence committed by Myanmar troops against Rohingya women and girls in 2017 indicated the military’s genocidal intent to destroy the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, United Nations investigators said in a report released on Thursday.

The panel of independent investigators, set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2017, accused Myanmar’s government of failing to hold anyone accountable and said it was responsible “under the Genocide Convention for its failure to investigate and punish acts of genocide”.

A military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that began in August 2017 drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

“Hundreds of Rohingya women and girls were raped, with 80 percent of the rapes corroborated by the Mission being gang rapes. The Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) was responsible for 82 percent of these gang rapes,” the report said.

At a news conference in Myanmar on Friday, military spokesman Major-General Tun Tun Nyi called the accusations “groundless” and based on “talking stories”.

“I cannot read out what they mentioned in their report, because it is not suitable to say in front of women in polite society,” he said.

Myanmar has laws against sexual assault, he added, and soldiers were warned against it at military schools.

“If you look at these experts, don’t they know our country’s law or respect it?” he asked.

The Myanmar government has refused entry to the U.N. investigators. The investigators traveled to refugee camps in Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia, and met with aid groups, think-tanks, academics and intergovernmental organizations.

In an August 2018 report, the investigators laid out five indicators of genocidal intent by the Myanmar military: the use of derogatory language; specific comments by government officials, politicians, religious authorities and military commanders prior, during and after the violence; the existence of discriminatory plans and policies; evidence of an organized plan of destruction; and the extreme brutality of the campaign.

“The mission now concludes on reasonable grounds that the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls that began on 25 August 2017 was a sixth factor that indicated the Tatmadaw’s genocidal intent to destroy the Rohingya people,” the new report said.

The conclusion was based on “the widespread and systematic killing of women and girls, the systematic selection of women and girls of reproductive ages for rape, attacks on pregnant women and on babies, the mutilation and other injuries to their reproductive organs, the physical branding of their bodies by bite marks on their cheeks, neck, breast and thigh.”

It said that two years later no military commanders had been held accountable for these and other crimes under international law and that the government “notoriously denies responsibility.”

“Myanmar’s top two military officials remain in their positions of power despite the mission’s call for them to be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide,” the panel said.

The investigators said they had collected new information about alleged perpetrators and added their names to a confidential list to be given to U.N. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet and another U.N. inquiry charged with collecting and preserving evidence for possible future trials.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez)

Outpouring of support in Russia for sisters who killed abusive father

A woman holds a placard during a rally in support of three Khachaturyan sisters, who accused of killing their father, in Moscow, Russia July 6, 2019. Picture taken July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

By Anna Rzhevkina

MOSCOW (Reuters) – One summer night last year, sisters Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan went into the room where their 57-year-old father Mikhail was sleeping and attacked him with pepper spray, a knife and a hammer.

The sisters are now on trial for his murder, but thousands of people have come out in support of them, saying the sisters were defending themselves from an abusive father after being failed by a Russian legal system that, critics say, turns a blind eye to domestic abuse.

The outpouring of support – over 230,000 people signed a petition asking to free the sisters from criminal charges – was in part because many women believe unless the system is changed, anyone could end up in their same situation.

“I feel solidarity with the sisters,” said Anna Sinyatkina, a translator who was in a Moscow nightclub last week when about 200 people, mostly young women, gathered for a poetry evening in support of the sisters.

“I feel that like them I can at any moment be put in a situation when there will be no one but me to protect my life, and I won’t get protection or a fair trial afterwards.”

After killing their father in their Moscow apartment on the night of July 27, the Khachaturyan sisters, now aged 18, 19, and 20, called the police. Initially, they said they killed their father in self-defense when he was attacking them.

YEARS OF ABUSE

Later, the investigation found that was not true, but that they had been subject to years of abuse by their father, including systematic beatings and violent sexual abuse, according to investigators’ documents seen by Reuters.

The case has emerged at a time when many Russians believe protections for women abused in the home are being weakened.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday Russia failed to protect another victim of domestic violence – a woman, who was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner.

In 2017 Russia decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Under the new rules, the maximum punishment for someone who beats a member of their own family, causing bleeding or bruising, is a fine, as long as they do not repeat the offense more than once a year.

The sisters’ lawyer, Alexei Parshin, said they were not demanding anonymity as victims of sexual abuse because the allegations about abuse were already in the public domain.

The lawyer said the sisters, at the time of the killing, were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. He said they considered running away but feared his retribution if they were caught. Their mother and father were separated.

“NOT AN ISOLATED CASE”

Parshin said the girls’ neighbors went to the police several times to report his violence against the sisters, but no criminal prosecution was ever brought against him.

Moscow police and Russia’s Investigative Committee did not immediately reply to Reuters request for comments.

“The situation in which the girls found themselves living with a father for a rapist is familiar and scary,” Alyona Popova, a lawyer and organizer of the petition told Reuters.  

“Many people, not only women but also men in the Russian Federation realize that this is not an isolated case.”

On July 6, activists staged protests in a square in the center of Moscow, holding posters with the tag “I/We are the Khachaturyan sisters”.

“In any civilized country, these girls would be in a psychotherapy clinic… but not in prison, no way,” said one of the protesters, Zara Mkhitaryan.

Nearby there were counter-protesters. A handful of men standing with posters that read “Killers have no gender” and “Men’s state” the name of a nationalist movement whose members believe men should dominate society.

 

(Reporting by Anna Rzhevkina, Editing by William Maclean)

European Court says Russia not facing up to domestic abuse problem

FILE PHOTO: The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia failed to protect a woman from repeated acts of violence by her former partner, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday, saying her case showed that Moscow was not facing up to its domestic abuse problem.

Valeriya Volodina, who now uses a different name for security reasons, was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner after she left him in 2015 and moved out of their shared home in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, the court said.

The police never opened a criminal investigation into violence and threats that she reported to them from January 2016 to March 2018, it said in its statement.

In one such episode, she was forced to have an abortion after he punched her in the face and stomach when she was pregnant. In other incidents, the partner, whom she met in 2014, cut her car’s brake hose and stole her identity papers, it said.

After she moved to Moscow, Volodina discovered a GPS tracker planted in her bag and the former partner, identified only as S., subsequently started stalking her outside her home and attempted to drag her from a taxi.

The court in Strasbourg said Russia’s police had interviewed the partner and carried out pre-investigation inquiries but not opened formal proceedings against him as it deemed that “no publicly prosecutable offense had been committed”.

Russian legislation does not define or mention domestic violence as a separate offense or aggravating element in other offenses and there is no mechanism for imposing restraining or protection orders, the court said.

“Those failings clearly demonstrated that the authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women,” the court said in a statement.

Each year, about 14,000 women die in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

Police finally opened a criminal investigation only in March 2018 when the partner circulated photographs of her on social networks without her consent, the court said.

The court said Russia’s response had been “manifestly inadequate” and ruled unanimously there had been two violations of the European Convention on human rights, one on the prohibition of discrimination and the other on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said it had three months to decide whether to appeal against the ruling, but that it would study the findings of the court, Interfax news agency reported.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

India jails three for life after shocking child rape and murder

Sanji Ram, one of the convicted in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, leaves the court in Pathankot, in the northern state of Punjab, India, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

By Manoj Kumar

PATHANKOT, India (Reuters) – A court in north India jailed three men for life on Monday over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl that stirred nationwide outrage and religious rivalries.

The case illustrated India’s appalling record on violence against women and children, and drew criticism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after some members criticized police for pressing charges.

“This is a victory of truth,” said prosecution lawyer M Farooqi after the convictions.

“The girl and her family have got justice today.”

The girl, from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018.

The prosecution had sought the death penalty for the three men – including a Hindu priest – who received life sentences.

Three other men, all police officers, received five-year terms for destroying evidence.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.

APPEAL PLANNED

In a 432-page judgment, the court also levied fines of 150,000 rupees ($2,150) on the three men given life terms – priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar.

The policemen – Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta – were also fined 50,000 rupees ($718) each.

Defense lawyer Vikram Mahajan said all six would appeal.

The case shocked India and prompted parliament to adopt the death penalty for rapists of girls younger than 12.

The trial began in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir state more than a year ago, but India’s Supreme Court shifted it to Pathankot in neighboring Punjab state after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats.

Lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling BJP, had also held protests against the charges.

Women and children in India have long been subjected to violence. Reported rapes climbed 60 percent to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, government figures show, which officials attribute to more women coming forward due to greater public awareness.

However, many more cases still go unreported, especially in rural areas, because of the fear of social consequences and lack of trust in police.

Of eight people accused in the girl’s case, one man identified only as Vishal was to be freed after being found not guilty, defense lawyers said.

The last, a juvenile, awaits trial.

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Writing by Alasdair Pal and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Andrew Cawthorne)