BEIRUT: A husband that beat his wife to within an inch of her life was fined LL20 million and given nine months in prison, Lebanese women’s rights organization Kafa announced Tuesday, the latest in a number of brutal cases involving spouse abuse.
Hussein Ftouni, 30, tortured his 22-year-old wife Tamara Harisi for hours June 7, leaving her with severe bruises all over her face and body.
The case is the first example of the courts using a new law passed in April aimed at protecting women from domestic violence, but Maya Ammar, a legal adviser for Kafa (Enough), told The Daily Star that the sentence was not enough for the crime committed.
“He should have been convicted of an intentional murder attempt, not only physical abuse,” Ammar said. “After brutally beating her, he brought a lighter and tried to set her on fire, but the lighter didn’t work and her life was miraculously saved.”
But telling her story to The Daily Star, Harisi said she thought the sentence was “good considering they were in Lebanon.”
The whole thing happened on a Saturday, after Harisi told Ftouni that she was sick of taking care of both their daughter and a girl and boy from his previous marriage all while trying to work at his shop.
“He answered very aggressively, saying he had married me for the purpose of having a servant to his children, because he loves them so much,” she said by telephone.
“But I know that he never loved his children. He never even spent time with them or took care of them, and my mother used to bring us food because he never did.”
The announcement quickly led to an argument, which in turn quickly led to a beating. Ftouni started by hitting her face, and when she struggled he tied her legs and tried to break her fingers.
“To justify his acts, he started accusing me of cheating. If it was true, he would not have asked me to come back home after the incident. I never cheated on him,” Harisi said.
“After beating me continuously for three hours, from 8 a.m. till 11, he threw alcohol over my mouth, eyes and body attempting to burn me.
“He brought his lighter, which fortunately didn’t function, and he was not able to set me on fire.”
Trying to end the attack, she went to hide behind Ftouni’s daughter.
“It didn’t matter to him, he threw more alcohol over me and her,” Harisi said.
Harisi’s chance to escape came when her sister Hanan – who also spoke to The Daily Star – realized that she had been chatting for hours on instant messaging service Whatsapp with Ftouni, who had been impersonating his wife to avoid arousing suspicion that she wasn’t answering her phone.
Before leaving the house to take a call from Hanan, who kept ringing her sister's phone, Ftouni told his wife: “I will be back, and I want to see the house totally cleaned.”
“I will kill you today. You will die in this house,” he added.
Bloodied and broken, Harisi seized her daughter and fled. “I preferred to die in front of everyone so that they know what happened. He was going to kill me when he came back home anyway,” she explained.
She managed to get a phone off someone in the building to contact her sister, who immediately asked her if her teeth and eyes were still in place, a reference to how “he [Ftouni] used to always threaten me that one day he will remove my eyes and destroy my teeth because he thought they were pretty,” explained Harisi.
Hanan immediately called the police, who came and took Harisi and her daughter to the safety of the station. This last detail gives Harisi particular pleasure to remember: “He never thought that the innocent Tamara who had been forgiving him for one and a half years would ever go to the police.”
When Ftouni arrived at the station to demand his daughter back, he was detained on the spot.
According to Harisi, he had previously beaten his mother and two sisters, even breaking the nose of one of them.
Regardless, both she and her sister Hanan were in agreement that the nine-month prison term was the best they could expect in the circumstances. “Since you live in Lebanon, where husbands kill their wives and walk free, this sentence is not bad,” said Hanan.
“I don’t think he will be able to pay the LL20 million anyway,” she added. “He will probably stay imprisoned longer for not being able to do so.”
For Harisi’s family, the most important thing is not punishing Ftouni, but helping her move on with her life.
“We don’t care about what happened anymore, all what we want is to get our daughter divorced,” said Harisi’s father, with whom she is currently staying, in an angry voice.
Kafa, however, refused to rule out the possibility of appealing the court’s decision to get a tougher sentence.
This is “the first step toward a real implementation of the law,” said Kafa’s Ammar. “But for a murder attempt, this is not enough.”