BEIRUT: A judge Thursday recommended the death penalty for a man accused of bludgeoning his wife to death with a pressure cooker, a move lauded by activists as a major step in Lebanon’s fight against domestic violence.
Judge Fouad Murad issued an indictment against Mohammad Adnan al-Nhaily, accusing him of premeditated murder for the death of his 34-year-old wife, Manal Assi, whom he allegedly beat “violently and viciously.”
The indictment is unprecedented in a domestic violence case.
On Feb. 8, Nhaily is alleged to have taken a pressure cooker off a hot stove to strike Assi, a teacher, after a quarrel between the couple turned violent. Assi died from her injuries.
The incident is one of six cases of alleged domestic violence that have come to light this year, prompting increased calls for the government to pass a draft law criminalizing domestic violence in an effort to curb attacks against women.
In the indictment, the judge wrote that on the day of the murder, Assi and Nhaily engaged in a dispute that turned violent after the husband accused his wife of infidelity.
Nhaily snatched Assi’s phone and discovered messages that revealed she had been corresponding with another man, Wassim Hafez, with whom she had planned a meeting and exchanged photographs, a judicial source, reading the indictment, told The Daily Star.
Nhaily, who said he had lost his temper and began beating his wife, claimed that Assi had admitted to having an affair.
In the indictment, the judge exonerated Hafez’s wife, Rania Shahrour, of incitement to murder.
Shahrour is said to have informed Nhaily that her husband had been having an affair with his wife. During her interrogation, Shahrour said she had phoned Assi and asked her to stop seeing her husband. She told the judge that she learned of the affair after discovering messages exchanged between Assi and Hafez on Hafez’s phone.
The judge will refer the case to the Criminal Court, which will put Nhaily on trail soon.
Assi’s lawyer was confident that the court would uphold the indictment. He said the death penalty request was based on Article 549 of the Penal Code, meaning that the offense required punishment without the possibility of a lesser sentence.
Lawyer Raed Hamdan recounted some of Nhaily’s remarks during his interrogation and described him as a “criminal par excellence.”
“I personally asked Manal’s husband if he would do what he did again if he had the chance and he proudly said yes,” Hamdan told The Daily Star.
He also said Nhaily kept beating Assi even after she died, an issue that the medical examiner neglected in their report.
“The autopsy report did not even mention that most of the hair on her head had been ripped off, that her teeth were all broken along with her toes. ... The report was manipulated,” he said, adding that Assi’s alleged affair was a fabrication.
Activists said they considered Murad’s recommendation to be the result of pressure they had been exerting on the judiciary.
“This is a courageous decision ... and a very good and encouraging one as well,” Hayat Mirshad, a women’s rights activist, told The Daily Star.
Mirshad said the judicial request indicated that the judiciary was taking these cases seriously, recognizing that they could be held accountable if they neglected to, referring to last month’s large protest against domestic violence.
Murad’s decision also gave hope to those seeking retribution, after the husband of Roula Yaacoub, who was accused of beating his wife to death, was declared innocent by an investigating judge last month.
Yaacoub, 31, was reportedly found beaten and comatose at her home in Halba last year.
But the fight is not over yet, according to activists from KAFA, a women’s rights group. They plan on hold a sit-in on April 1, when Parliament is scheduled to convene for the first time since last year.
“It will be open-ended if need be, until lawmakers approve and pass the draft law,” KAFA activist Faten Abu Shaqra told The Daily Star.
On the legislative agenda is the amended version of a domestic violence draft law that was first submitted to Parliament in 2010.
The amendments altered the text’s title, which now refers to violence against the family. A clause criminalizing marital rape was also removed after it sparked outrage from religious figures and some politicians.