Suspected ‘honor killing’ stokes German fears about customs, crimes of Middle Eastern refugees

The alleged “honor killing” last month of a young pregnant woman who fled Syria after being gang raped is the latest case to leave Germans horrified by the crimes and customs of some of the refugees pouring in from the war-torn Middle East.

The woman, identified only as Rokstan M., fled Syria in 2011 after being gang-raped by Syrian soldiers and found work as an interpreter. After authorities in the small, eastern city of Dessau discovered her body, stabbed and buried behind a housing complex for Syrian refugees Friday, suspicion has focused on her father and brothers, who prosecutors believe may have killed her because the gang rape left her “unclean.”

“I don’t like the term ‘honor killing,’ Christian Preissner, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, told on Thursday. But if the motive shows that it was an ‘honor killing,’ I will say it.”

The case has gripped much of the country, as details about Rokstan’s final days have emerged. Full names of crime victims are customarily withheld in German media to protect their privacy.

“I am awaiting death,” Rokstan wrote on her WhatsApp profile shorty before her death. “But I am too young to die.”

“I was taken by three men. Ever since that time my family has regarded me as unclean."

— Rokstan M.

While it remains to be seen whether it was in fact an honor killing, Preissner confirmed that investigators are looking at “her close circle with a cultural motive.”

Mark Krüger, a German author who was friends with Rokstan and employed her as an interpreter for his book project on Syrian refugees, recorded her discussing her torment.

“I was taken by three men,” Rokstan said. “Ever since that time my family has regarded me as unclean. My mother and my brothers mistreat me. They say that I deserve to die.”

After she vanished, Krüger conducted his own investigation and helped the police locate the garden burial site.

Police are searching for Rokstan’s father and two of her brothers. They believe the father fled to Turkey and may be back in Syria. Her mother is also under investigation, according to the mass-circulation paper Bild.

“The brutal murder of Rokstan appears to be a clear case of ‘honor killing.’ Her story fits the pattern: Born into a deeply conservative society and expelled by her own family for the ‘crime’ of having been gang-raped, “Julie Lenarz, executive director of the London-based Human Security Centre, told

Rokstan fled to Berlin to escape her family and lived in April at Papatya, a crisis center for girls and young women with migrant backgrounds. Eva Kaiser, the director of Papatya, told  she believes Rokstan was killed by her family “because she was no longer a virgin and was raped in Syria.”

Honor killings are an acute problem in Germany. According to Kaiser, there have been at least 129 documented honor killings in Germany in the last 20 years. The number is likely to be higher because Papatya does not have access to all court cases and relies on open sources for its data.

A 2006 Federal Criminal Police study, there were on average 13 honor killings a year in the country. With 1.5 million refugees, mainly from Muslim-majority countries, expected to enter Germany this year, the number of “honor killings” could increase considerably.

In late September, the trial of a Pakistani parents—Shazia and Asadullah Khan—charged with murdering their 19-year-old daughter Lareeb in a case of “honor killing,” unfolded in the city of Darmstadt.

The Khans considered their daughter’s activity dishonorable because she did not want an arranged marriage and stopped wearing a head scarf. Lareeb started a relationship with a young man and was caught shoplifting condoms. Shazia said at her trial: “At this point it became clear that there was sexual contact. When I showed the letter to my husband, he snapped.”

Rokstan’s fate mirrored in some facets the horrific murder of Lareeb. Rokstan fell in love with a 17-year-old German Arab. He announced that he wanted to marry Rokstan who was pregnant at the time. The family of the 17-year-old rejected the idea of marriage with her.

With Germany's agreement to take in some 800,000 refugees this year alone, and potentially millions more in the future, more such crimes are likely, said one expert,

“This problem will worsen with the influx of Muslim refugees, as will … forced child marriage, forced arranged marriage, normalized battering and stalking of daughters, forced veiling and under-the-radar polygamy,” said Phyllis Chesler, who has written several studies on honor killings.