AFTER a Muslim couple in the UK began a 25-year jail sentence yesterday for the murder of their 17-year-old daughter, Mohammed Shafiq, Chief Executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation said of the sentence handed down at Chester Crown Court:
A strong message goes out and should be very clear: If you engage in honour killings – if you engage in forced marriages – you will be caught and brought to justice.
The report in which Shafiq was quoted makes for grim reading. Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, murdered their daughter Shafilea in September, 2003. During their trial that began in May, jurors heard evidence from Shafilea’s younger sister, Alesha, who said she witnessed the killing when she was 12.
After an argument about Shafilea’s mode of dress, her parents pushed her down on a couch, stuffed a thin white plastic bag into her mouth and held their hands over her mouth and nose until she died, Alesha testified.
As she was struggling, her mother said, “just finish it here,” according to Alesha.
Sentencing the couple – first cousins from the Pakistani village of Uttam – to a minimum of 25 years Justice Roderick Evans said of the victim:
She was being squeezed between two cultures – the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace, and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose on her.
The judge asked them:
What was it that brought you two, her parents, the people who had given her life, to the point of killing her? You chose to bring up your family in Warrington but, although you lived in Warrington, your social and cultural attitudes were those of rural Pakistan and it was those which you imposed upon your children.
Shafilea was a determined, able and ambitious girl who wanted to live a life which was normal in the country and in the town in which you had chosen to live and bring up your children. However, you could not tolerate the life that Shafilea wanted to live.
In Britain, more than 25 women have been killed in so-called “honour killings” in the past decade. Families have sometimes lashed out at their children on the belief that they have brought their household shame by becoming too Westernized or by refusing a marriage.
Shafilea was only ten when she began to rebel against her parents’ strict rules, according to prosecutor Andrew Edis.
The young girl would hide make-up, false nails and Western clothes at school, changing into conservative clothes before her parents picked her up. But it was the last year of her life that proved to be the most traumatic.
When Shafilea became a teenager, he interest turned to boys — and her parents reacted violently. School officials alerted social services in October 2002 after Shafilea came to school with injuries to her face. That same month, Shafilea told a social worker that she was to be married in Pakistan in February 2003.
In January 2003, she ran away, telling friends her parents would not leave her alone. She eventually returned.
In February 2003, she ran away again and pleaded with the authorities to allow her to move out of her parents’ house because, she said, they were abusive and trying to force her into an arranged marriage.
Some of Shafilea’s own words also proved compelling to jurors. In an application form to move out, she said she had suffered from regular domestic violence from the age of 15.
One parent would hold me whilst the other hit me.
Her father snatched her off the streets in the same month as the application. He bundled her into a car and took her to Pakistan against her will, Alesha said.
In protest, Shafilea drank bleach and was brought back to Britain in May 2003. She spent eight weeks in the hospital trying to recover from damage done to her throat.
Even in her weakened and desperate state, Shafilea’s parents were relentless.
Alesha said that after he sister was killed, her father carried her body to the car wrapped in a blanket. She was reported missing shortly after, with her parents making a teary-eyed media appeal for information leading to their daughter.
But police were suspicious — so much so that they bugged the house. Shafilea’s decomposed remains were eventually discovered in the River Kent in Cumbria in February 2004, but it wasn’t until 2010 that Alesha provided the key testimony.
Last year, the British government’s Forced Marriage Unit investigated more than 1,400 cases of forced marriages, most of which occur in Muslim communities. Britain is home to more than 1.8 million Muslims, most from Pakistani roots.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn