In a moment of confusion, fear and panic, Raja al-Hakmi found herself caught between two choices: either to commit a murder and preserve the reputation of her and her family, or to let a man enter her room and violate her. Because she was sure that all laws and customs would stand beside her, she chose to defend herself and kill the would-be intruder.
Raja was married to an old man in her village. Because she was his second wife, however, her father-in-law forced her husband to divorce her. After her divorce, she returned to live with her elderly father, mother, and two sisters in their home in the al-Odayn village of Ibb. The absence of her brother made her home an easy target.
Every night, Abduslam Mothana would stand in front of Raja’a family home, hoping for an opportunity to enter her room. Raja knew he held bad intentions against him, so she mobilized all her energy each night to secure the home against his entry. Still he maintained his desire, and on the night of Wednesday, October 20 2010, Abduslam was determined to break into the house whatever the cost. Armed with his gun, flashlight, and scissors, Abduslam approached Raja’s window. She was terrified by his unexpected approach, especially when he shone the light at her window, searching for an entry point. At this point, though, she still did not believe he would go through with his plan.
Raja had nothing on hand with which to defend herself except her father’s gun. In a moment of horror, with Abduslam perched on the window about to enter, Raja had no choice but to fire six bullets into his body. Villagers heard the noise and gathered round the house, where they saw Abduslam’s dead body. The villagers called the man’s family and brought them—at gunpoint—to the see the body before the police arrived.
Abduslam’s family took the body and the tools he had with him, a fact that they did not report to the CID. Shortly after they removed the body, Raja was surprised to find Abduslam’s family forcing their way into her family’s home.
“They searched our luggage and hid the bullets fired within the house, in order to corroborate their story to the CID that the killing took place outside the house,” Raja said.
In the morning, police arrested Raja and her innocent father, who was jailed for five months. The case was brought to the First Instance Court and the Court sentenced her to two years in prison and required she repay the Abduslam’s family for his death.
Abduslam’s family was very influential and they were unsatisfied with the ruling, so they appealed the decision at the Ibb higher court. The second court sentenced Raja to death.
Raja, who was only trying to protect herself and the reputation of her family, was going to be executed. This sort of case is often a lose-lose situation for women in the Middle East, who may be punished even by their families for the crimes of others if the family feels that its honor has been jeopardized. This sentiment was captured well by a woman commenting on Raja’s case: “If she had not kill him and had allowed him to enter her room, her family would have killed her instead.”
Raja’s brother said that Abdulslam now is 37 years old, married, and the father of five sons and two daughters. “It was not the first time he committed this act. He used to walk around at night spying and annoying the women of the village. Many complaints were lodged against him. He was immoral and there are many witnesses to that,” he said.
That decision drew considerable public attention, and activists strongly condemned the verdict. They wondered what Raja had to do at that moment, and how she changed from a victim to a criminal deserving death.
Many demonstrations were held in different governorates to support Raja and cancel the death sentence. The protestors demanded to purge corrupt judges from the Yemeni judiciary.
Abdu Shuja’a became head of the Raja’s defense team, and a new case was born of the public opinion that Raja’s death sentence could be overturned.
After Abduslam’s family learned that Raja could potentially be freed, they demanded that her previous judgment be carried out. According to Raja’s lawyer, Raja refused to give them money after she was jailed for more than three years. “Either being innocent or being dead, these are better for me.”
Mona Ahmed, student, said that the Raja case is important for all Yemeni females because Abdulslam will be an example for all those who want to insulate women by any means possible. “The court should free Raja. If it doesn’t, that will make encourage all criminals to dare to abuse women in their homes. They must put an end to Raja’s case because she is innocent.”
Raja sent a message to her judges asking them to reconsider the judgment. She requested that they think of God while they are making their judgment and reviewing the case file and previous investigations.
“A soul is very expensive and I defended myself, honor and reputation. Ask yourselves, why did he come in the late night and climb [the walls of] our house? Why did his family evidence of the crime and take the body before the arrival of the police? Is it possible to be condemned to death because I defended myself,” Raja asked. “Every one of you has daughters, so tell me how would you want your daughters to behave in such a situation.”