Bekhal Mahmod was one of six siblings from a Sunni Muslim family in Iraqi Kurdistan who sought a new life as asylum seekers and arrived in London in 1998.
When Bekhal’s father tried to force her into an arranged marriage at 15, she ran away. This caused her father to ‘lose respect’ within the Kurdish community and Bekhal became the target of an honour killing and her younger sisters Banaz and Payzee were quickly married off to restore the family’s reputation.
When Banaz left her husband, claiming he’d beaten and raped her, Mahmod decided this ‘shame’ to the family meant Banaz must die. Within weeks, she had vanished.
Her body was finally discovered, crammed into a suitcase and buried in a garden in Birmingham. Banaz, age 20, had been raped and killed in a sickening plot orchestrated by her father and uncle.
Still fearing for her own life, Bekhal bravely faced her father and uncle in court – making her the first female in British legal history to give evidence against family members in an honour killing trial – and won justice for her beloved sister Banaz.
Bekhal now has a new identity after entering the police witness protection programme. She lives in terror of her father’s release from jail.
This is her story
This is such a compelling story and the fact that’s it’s a true account of one girls bravery and heartbreak makes it even more chilling. When Bekhal Mahmod moves to the UK as an asylum seeker with her family in 1998, she has no idea of what lies ahead. She embraces her new surroundings and decides she doesn’t want the arranged marriage her family expect her to go through with and so she runs away from home. Her sisters aren’t quite as lucky though and when Banaz tells Bekhal of her husbands controlling behaviour and that she wants to leave him for another man that she has fallen in love with, it is seen as bringing the family into disgrace. This leads to Banaz being raped and murdered in a plot organised by her own family…
This is a such a shocking story meaning that there were times that I had to physically put No Safe Place to one side. Obviously I had heard about dishonour killings within strict Muslim families but the details given here went far beyond what I knew or understood previously. I’m so pleased that Bekhal was able to stick to her principles and give the evidence in court that meant those responsible for this heinous crime were punished accordingly. But it means that she’s now in witness protection and will be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life.
This is such an courageous book and I recommend that everyone reads it especially if they work within educational settings. From a safeguarding point of view it is so important that everyone is aware of signs of FMG and familial abuse in their surroundings and community. It can be a difficult subject to talk about but with books like this raising awareness then it puts it out there for everyone to do the right thing. Beautifully written with an important message for us all.
No Safe Place was published on 7th July 2022.
Bekhal Mahmod is admired for giving prosecution evidence against her father, uncle and male cousins for the honour killing of her sister, Banaz Mahmod. Her relatives were all convicted of murder or related crimes. She is the first female sibling in the UK to do so. Bekhal also faced threats and attempts to kill her after she left home as a teenager due to abuse and pressures to have a child marriage. She is now on a witness protection scheme, but still in fear of her life. Bekhal has given numerous media interviews, including in an Emmy award-winning documentary, Banaz, A Love Story. She was also depicted in the popular ITV drama Honour, which starred Keeley Hawes. Bekhal is campaigning to introduce a Banaz’s Law to prevent cultural excuses for murder or honour violence. In 2011, Bekhal was nominated for the True Honour Award for her courage in court and campaigning.
Dr Hannana Siddiqui is an award-winning author, expert and activist on violence against black and ethnic minority women and girls. She has been a leading member of the renowned black feminist organisation Southall Black Sisters, for thirty-six years. Hannana has supported over 10,000 women and girls facing domestic and sexual abuse, forced marriage, honour violence, immigration, poverty and destitution, and suicide and self-harm problems. She has successfully campaigned to make major legal and policy reform as well as change conservative cultural and religious attitudes and practices which discriminate against women and girls within minority communities. Hannana has supported Bekhal Mahmod since 2006 to achieve justice for her sister, Banaz, and to end honour violence. She formulated Banaz’s Law and is currently campaigning with Bekhal to introduce this new law to re-frame cultural defences to honour crimes as aggravating offences and acts of dishonour.