A man who raped a Muslim woman because she showed an interest in Christianity has been jailed for at least five years by a Sydney court.
As Abdul Reda Al-Shawany was sentenced today, the Downing Centre District Court heard a harrowing statement from the victim, revealing that her shame and fear had been compounded by her cultural background.
The woman, who cannot be named, arrived in Australia as a refugee from Iraq.
But she said that even when she was jailed by dictator Saddam Hussein, she never feared for her life the way she did after the rape.
“It is better if I’m dead,” she told the court.
Al-Shawany’s trial was told that he visited the woman, an acquaintance, at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre with another man.
The woman had been reading the Bible and Al-Shawany noted her contact with Christians.
The men told her they were “infidel people” and if she went with them, her killing “would be halal” – meaning her killer would go to heaven.
In September 2002, Al-Shawany lured the woman to a unit at Warwick Farm, claiming to have news about her family in Iraq.
She was hit on the head and had her hijab tied around her face before Al-Shawany raped her twice in what Judge Brian Knox described as a degrading, humiliating and brutal attack.
Afterwards Al-Shawany told her: “Let your Christ benefit you now”.
It took the jury less than half an hour to convict him of two counts of sexual intercourse without consent.
His victim – who has since converted to Christianity – wept at the back of the court as a friend read out her victim impact statement.
She said she was afraid she would be killed, either in retribution by Al-Shawany’s family or in an “honour killing”.
“In Iraq, if some woman has got a problem like this, her husband can kill her, or her brother or her uncle can kill her, without question,” the victim wrote.
“They can kill me here too in Australia. Before I’m not afraid of anyone. Even when Saddam Hussein put me in jail, I was still strong.
“Now I’m afraid all the time.”
She said her husband had refused to speak to her for months because of the shame she brought on the family.
She had grown isolated within the Iraqi community and feared people “will say I’m a bad woman”.
“I feel like a piece of dirt,” she wrote. “I came to Australia for freedom and Abdul Reda took my freedom away.”
Al-Shawany, a father of four, maintains his innocence.
Judge Knox found the offender believed the sexual assault was justified because the woman was considered an “infidel” for reading the Bible and associating with Christians.
“What he did was an attempt to enforce his religious or cultural views on his former countrywoman,” Judge Knox said.
“Such behaviour is completely intolerable and totally unacceptable in this community.”
He sentenced Al-Shawany to a maximum seven-and-a-half years in jail.
The 52-year-old must serve at least five years, making him eligible for parole in 2012.
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