An Iraqi woman has died after she was hospitalised with severe burns following alleged torture by her husband, her family members have said.
Twenty-year-old Malak Haider Al-Zubaidi died late on Saturday night after her lungs and kidneys stopped functioning nearly a week after she was admitted to a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.
Al-Zubaidi was the second wife of Mohammed Al-Mayahli, a Najaf city police officer, who she married less than a year ago.
According to her family, Al-Zubaidi had been forbidden from visiting her parents for some eight months and had been subject to domestic abuse throughout this period.
An unverified report published on Facebook by Hayan Al-Khayat, an Iraqi lawyer, claims that Al-Zubaidi initially reported the incident as an accident after pressure from her husband’s family.
Al-Zubaidi later changed her statement, alleging Al-Mayahli abused her with a phone charging cable before she ran to the garden in the front of the house, was soaked in gasoline and caught on fire.
Al-Mayahli, however, has disputed the claims, and immediately after pictures and videos of Al-Zubaidi in visible pain surfaced on social media, posted on Facebook alleging the victim had a mental illness and set herself on fire.
“She burned herself with petrol and accused me and my family… there are sponsored accounts that are posting these lies just to slander my family.”
Following a court order, however, several people connected to the case, including Al-Mayahli, have been taken into custody by the police, local media reported.
There is no law in Iraq which deems domestic violence a criminal act. The country’s constitution bans “all forms of violence and abuse in the family” but allows husbands to “discipline” their wives.
Several UN offices in the country have joined calls for domestic violence law reform. A joint statement from various UN agencies said: “The adoption of a law on domestic violence will help to ensure that perpetrators of gender-based violence in Iraq, such as those who carried out heinous incidents seen in the recent past, are held accountable.”
British Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey joined calls for justice, writing in Arabic on Twitter: “We feel a great deal of sadness about Malak Al-Zubaidi’s case, and we hope the investigation is quickly completed. We would like to remind that domestic violence, whether it is psychological or physical abuse, is a prevailing problem around the world.”