Christelle Abu Shakra: Domestic violence victim dies under suspicious circumstances

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A screen grab from LBC showing Christelle Abu Shakra who died Saturday.

By: Zainab Hawi

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014

“Our tally was one woman killed each month as a result of domestic violence; today, we are talking about two women being killed each month,” said Leila Awada, a lawyer working with the association KAFA--Enough Violence and Exploitation.

She was commenting on the death of Christelle Abu Shakra, who died at Hayek Hospital in the Sin al-Fil suburb of Beirut on Saturday. She had ingested a fatal dose of the substance known locally as “Demol” – a common household insecticide in Lebanon – under suspicious circumstances.

KAFA broke the news first, with reports that Abu Shakra’s mother had pressed charges against her daughter’s husband, accusing him of her murder.

But so far, it is not clear in which direction the official investigation is proceeding. The public prosecutor ordered the husband to be interrogated twice, before he was released on Sunday on bail. If this turns out to be another case of domestic violence, this would be the second of its kind in one month after the murder of Manal Assi.

On Valentine’s Day, while lovers were celebrating, Christelle drank the toxic substance. She fell into a coma and subsequently died. Her husband took her to the hospital but did not identify himself to the hospital staff or sign the necessary forms to get her admitted. He called her parents and told them that she was in a critical condition, according to the victim’s uncle Jean Tahhan, who spoke to Al-Akhbar .

Tahhan unreservedly accuses Christelle’s husband of her murder, based on his previous history of abusing his wife, as Tahhan said, and his criminal record. The husband was detained on drug-related charges in the past, and has many prior, including assaulting Tahhan’s sister, who is a nun, and vandalizing her home according to Tahhan.

Witnesses have said that the husband was recently seen carrying weapons. In addition, the husband had deprived his wife all access to their only son (5 years old), who now lives with the husband’s parents, while systematically putting her in a negative light in front of the child, as Tahhan said.

Christelle had previously sought help from KAFA after suffering abuse at the hands of her husband, requesting legal assistance regarding separation from him. KAFA was able to secure a ruling for a physical separation of the spouses, intending to follow it up with a divorce suit at the religious court.

The estrangement lasted for over a year and a half, until Friday’s incident. But KAFA’s lawyer declined to share further details, saying some information needed to remain confidential, pending the completion of forensic-evidence collection and cross examination of witnesses, to ascertain whether Christelle’s death was “homicide, manslaughter, or otherwise.”

There are some “missing links” in some aspects of the case. For instance, according to both the lawyer and the victim’s uncle, a significant period of time had elapsed between Christelle leaving work and her being admitted to hospital, prompting speculations about the exact timing and circumstances during which the incident had taken place.

Interestingly, the husband erased the contents of Christelle’s phone, possibly to conceal any incriminating evidence. However, according to Awada, “the authorities can obtain this data even if it is no longer on the phone.”

Tahhan admits that there are mysteries in the case, but reckons that the husband had lured the victim, and even blackmailed her by using her son against her. His hopes are now pinned on the judiciary to uncover the truth.

The authorities interviewed the suspect twice at a police station in Sin al-Fil, before releasing him on bail on Sunday, according to Awada. Meanwhile, the suspect’s family has reached out to the victim’s parents for “reconciliation,” after Tahhan called the family to inquire about what had happened at the hospital, and why the husband, who was accompanied by his father, had decided to flee the scene and did not return despite the victim’s critical condition.

When Tahhan threatened to go personally to the husband’s family home, a delegation from the suspect’s hometown in in the north paid the uncle a visit to dissuade him, but he refused to stop pursuing the case until the truth is revealed. The case has visibly taken its toll on Tahhan, but he has great hopes that justice would be served, and wants to the case to be widely exposed in the press and social media.

For its part, KAFA announced that it will step up its pressure on parliament, calling on Speaker Nabih Berri to convene an immediate session to discuss and pass the bill on protecting women from domestic violence. In the same vain, Awada said there will be retaliatory measures to be declared today, with protests planned outside parliament within a month, saying that there is no excuse for parliament to delay the matter any further with a cabinet having finally been formed.

Follow Zainab Hawi on Twitter | @HawiZeinab

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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