03/09/2022, 18.28
IRAQ
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Maria, 20, killed in Erbil by relatives for converting to Christianity

The young woman’s violent death by her brother and uncle was reported on International Women's Day. With tens of thousands of followers on social media, she promoted women’s rights and freedoms. Her family forced her to marry at the age of 12 a man from whom she separated four years later.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – International Women's Day in Iraqi Kurdistan was marked by reports of the murder last Sunday of a 20-year-old woman by a family member. Her only fault, if it can be called that, was her conversion from Islam to Christianity and the decision to use a new name: Maria.

The case is another sign that Iraq’s journey towards tolerance and coexistence is still a long one, despite last year’s visit by Pope Francis and the work of Chaldean Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako.

Even northern Iraq – with its quieter Kurdish region which took in tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims fleeing the Islamic State – is not free from sectarian violence.

The victim, “Maria” Eman Sami Maghdid, was stabbed to death. She had been using her Christian name for some time on social media and was very popular with many followers.

Although she was killed on Sunday, more details of her killing were reported yesterday, International Women's Day. It appears that she was punished by her family for leaving Islam, specifically for being emancipated and embracing the Christian religion; in short, she was “guilty” of apostasy.

Her murder took place near the Erbil international airport, not far from Ankawa, the predominantly Christian district of Erbil. Her uncle is said to have killed her with the complicity of her brother.

At first, reports indicated that both alleged killers had been arrested, then police issued a statement saying that only one person, the uncle, had been arrested.

The young woman was well known for her activism, her struggle for women's rights, which – together with her conversion to Christianity – led her to be condemned by her family. For their part, her relatives claim that family squabbles and arguments are the cause of her death.

A government source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that “after her conversion, she chose to be called Maria.”

Her family instead said that “Christianity is not the reason” behind the murder; instead, it is due “to the fact that she wanted to live alone, be free, four years after she left the husband she was forced to marry at the age of 12.”

For the source, her relatives were driven to kill her because she “did not want to wear the veil, and no longer wanted to follow Islamic traditions.”

“They say that his father sells fruits and vegetables when in fact he is an imam and is a well-known religious figure in the Muslim community.”

"They found the body tied with a tape, thrown at the side of the road, with many stab wounds.”

Maria was an open person, she lived with a friend and was part of a commission that fought for the rights of Arab and Iraqi women.

Ironically, her death coincided with International Women's Day, a sign that women’s struggle for rights and freedom of choice is still a long and uphill journey in a society still influenced Islamic radicalism. Her conversion came on top of that.

“In recent years, many Muslims have become Christian,” the source explained, “but nothing is said about it so as not to fuel tensions and cause clashes. Leading Christian and Muslim figures as well as Kurdish government leaders have condemned the murder.”

Many of Maria’s almost 50,000 followers on Tik Tok also condemned her killing. In her videos, she spread messages of courage, struggle and emancipation, showing herself smoking, wearing Western-style clothes. In an accusatory tone in one video, she said: “Being different in Kurdistan can cause death.” She was right.

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