What It's Like To Lose Your Sister in an Honor Killing
Banaz Mahmod was murdered by her father and uncle even after reporting her fears to the police multiple times. A decade later, her sister Payzee believes that British police still aren't taking honor killings seriously.
Illustration by Calum Heath
When Banaz Mahmod was murdered in 2006, she had already been to the police at least five times. In an interview room, the 20-year-old Londoner told an officer about her husband’s abuse and the threats to her life. In a shaky video filmed on her boyfriend’s phone while Mahmod was in hospital after her father made the first attempt on her life, she named the men that would murder her.
Mahmod died weeks later in a so-called honor killing because she was perceived to have brought shame on her family. She had left her arranged marriage to have a relationship with a close friend, Rahmat Sulemani.
In August 2018, the bodies of Raneem Oudeh and her mother, Khaola Saleem, were found outside Saleem’s house in Solihull, a town in the West Midlands of England. In the two hours leading up to the attack, Oudeh had contacted the police five times. She was on the line to 999 as she was stabbed to death. The women were murdered by Oudeh’s ex-husband, Janbaz Tarin. Oudeh had been trying to leave Tarin for four months after discovering that he had a wife and three children in Afghanistan.
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In both cases, the attacks didn’t come as a surprise—to the police, or the victims. Their distress was well documented, and footage of Mahmod’s initial police interview and even the video filmed in the hospital has been uploaded to YouTube as part of the documentary Banaz: A Love Story.
These videos created a gingerbread trail for the police when Mahmod’s body was found, leading them to prosecute her father and uncle for ordering her murder, and five other men who were found responsible for, or implicated in, her death.
“It haunts me to see and hear her in such panic in those videos,” says Mahmod’s sister Payzee. She has never spoken publicly about her sister before; she and her family chose not to comment on the case at the time. Now, Payzee wants to tell her side of the story.
“Banaz is [sic] so convinced of the danger she is in, so how could the police not have seen it? When I see the videos, I see a terrified young woman,” she tells Broadly. “I’m not trained and it’s not my duty to protect people, but I would never be able to listen to someone speak of their danger like Banaz did and let them leave my side. How did this happen?”
In the police interview, Banaz said that there were people following her. “That was the main reason I came to the police station,” she said, “so that in the future, or at any time, if anything happens to me, it’s them.”
“Now that I’ve given this statement, what can you do for me?” Her final question to the officer is haunting, not only just because of what happened after, but because the same events have unfolded again since with Oudeh’s murder.
It took three months for Banaz’s report to be written up. Within two weeks of Banaz signing it as a true account of her experience, she was dead.
At the time of Banaz’s murder, her boyfriend Sulemani told the Telegraph: “I hope that police are going to take this more seriously now because it is a serious thing and it is happening every day in Britain. We just can't accept that here in modern society."
So why, more than a decade after Banaz’s tragic murder, are vulnerable women still dying at the hands of men—despite their pleas for help?
The most recent stats from an independent investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that there were 225 prosecutions for honor-based violence between 2014 to 2015, with 129 of them resulting in convictions.
Worryingly, the most common reason for failing to achieve a conviction was victim retraction. Twenty-six of the 96 cases that didn’t result in conviction were because of this. This happens when the evidence of the victim supports the prosecution case, but the victim is reluctant to give evidence in court, or rejects or withdraws a complaint. On a further 14 occasions, the victim didn’t attend court.
Payzee maintains that the lack of understanding and the taboo surrounding honor-based abuse creates a cultural divide between—in her sister’s case—the Kurdish Muslim community and the police, resulting in women being too scared to report crimes or follow through with prosecutions.
“The police force doesn’t understand the family dynamics,” she says. “They don’t understand the community ties and complicated relationships. I’m not saying they don’t want to, but I’m saying until they actually learn to see the signs of danger, they can’t help them.
“They will keep seeing young women murdered by men. Enough is enough—we have seen too many women lose their lives.”
It’s not just Payzee who believes that awareness is key in ensuring that police take women seriously. Dr. Roxanne Kahn is the director of HARM (Honour Abuse Research Matrix), an international network of more than 200 frontline professionals and researchers working collectively to combat honor-based abuse, killings, forced marriage, and FGM.
Kahn says that the UK government has been “preoccupied with forced marriages” and has specifically created legislation criminalizing it. Honor-based abuse, on the other hand, has been left unaddressed. NGOs and charities have been left to raise awareness and support those at risk and victims.
“Policies and preventative strategies are lacking at a national level, and this has had a negative impact on public agency’s awareness and understanding of honour-based abuse,” Kahn tells Broadly. “This places victims at risk, especially for those whose cases are more related to organised crime, as in Banaz’s heartbreaking case.”
"My sister’s death should have been the last of these crimes."
The answer? “The UK government must take responsibility for the slow development of policy on honor-based abuse,” Kahn says. “In order to improve knowledge, better training for all public sector workers and government departments must be a priority; it must be a mandatory requirement to educate young people in schools about honour-based abuse and forced marriages, and more funds must be allocated for specialist organisations to promote their services and to engage with their local communities in information campaigns about the work they do.”
Payzee agrees that training is vital, though she adds that reform starts with both the police and the communities too. She wants to raise awareness and educate others on honor-based abuse, “We need to do better,” she says. “There needs to be education in schools, advice for young women growing up in particular cultures who are more likely to face these situations.
“We need to stop waiting for things like this to happen. We need to listen to women and offer support each and every time. No woman is going to go to the police and cry wolf. My sister’s death should have been the last of these crimes.”
In a statement released by the West Midlands Police following the attack, a spokesperson said that Oudeh had spoken to the police about her killer Tarin “a number of times.” West Midlands Police is currently being investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over its previous contact with the family.
The Metropolitan Police told Broadly that it could not comment on Mahmod’s case specifically, but said that it was committed to tackling and responding effectively to honor-based abuse as a matter of priority. A spokesperson told Broadly that “every reported incident is taken seriously, even in cases where there is only a small amount of information or when a victim has not reported it themselves.”
Payzee was at the gym when she saw news of Oudeh and Saleem’s murder on the TV. “I saw the word murder and two women in hijabs on the screen and I just thought ‘again?’ It was all too familiar,” she says.
She believes that, given the police’s failure to acknowledge Banaz and Raneem’s distress, the police are failing women at risk. She says that Banaz solved her own murder case by making notes, recording videos and making official statements. If Banaz hadn’t already gone to the police, she wonders whether her sister’s body would have ever been found. Would the case even have gone to court?
Payzee says she doesn’t know how she’s gone on for this long without her sister. “This is going to sound so cliche,” she says. “I feel like everyone says this when they lose someone close to them, but I mean this every word of this—Banaz was the sweetest person you will ever meet. She would always put others before herself.
"She just wanted to see people happy; she would do anything for you, even if she knew you for five minutes.”