UK Muslim jailed for keeping his wife in a state of slavery
In what is believed to be the first trial of its kind in Britain, Safraz Ahmed, 34, above, pleaded guilty to keeping his wife, Sumara Iram, in domestic servitude, subjecting her to ‘violence, intimidation, aggression and misery’.
According to this report, Ahmed was jailed for two years and was given an additional eight-month sentence for assault causing actual bodily harm for breaking her nose. The sentences will run concurrently, meaning he could be free within 12 months – less than half the time that Iram lived under his control.
Prosecutors and police said they hoped the case of Ahmed, a mechanic from south London who abused, demeaned and taunted Sumara Iram over a two-year period, could see more potential victims come forward.
Ahmed subjected Iram to “physical and mental torture” after she came to the UK from Pakistan in late 2012 for an arranged marriage into which she entered willingly and with initially high hopes, Woolwich crown court was told. She came from a well-educated, liberal background, the court heard.
Ahmed struck his wife, threw tins of cat food at her, sent streams of abusive and demeaning text messages, and once told her to jump in front of a vehicle or into a river, the judge, Christopher Hehir, was told.
In her victim impact statement, Iram said:
Because the beatings happened regularly and for such small things I felt worthless. I was not allowed to do what I wanted to do, I was never allowed to step out of the house alone and I was not allowed to make friends, which means I was never allowed to socialise; I felt like their prisoner.
I cooked, I cleaned, I washed, I ironed, looked after other people’s children and when things were not to the liking of the family I was punished by beatings. I felt that there was only one purpose of my life and that was to serve this family.
Said Damaris Lakin, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service:
This is a ground-breaking case which demonstrates how far we have come in tackling modern-day slavery. We believe this is the first conviction in England and Wales of a husband for holding his wife in servitude.
Lakin added that prosecutors were:
Committed to working with the police and other partner agencies to bring the perpetrators of modern day slavery to justice and support victims to help them through the prosecution process and beyond in the hope that they can rebuild their lives.
Outlining the prosecution case, Caroline Haughey said the pair had married in Pakistan in 2006 when Iram, now 29, was a teenager. After a delay caused by her studies and visa issues she flew to London in late 2012, anticipating:
An harmonious household where she was an equal.
Told her he had married her so she could look after his mother and his home.
Haughey described the physical and mental abuse Ahmed meted out, which she said had left Iram, who has an MA in Islamic studies, with post-traumatic stress disorder. She was forced to cook, clean and carry out other domestic duties in days often lasting from 5am to midnight.
It was an atmosphere of fear, constantly punctuated by violence.
Ahmed had once hit his wife for, as he viewed it, failing to tend properly to his sister, the court heard. If the family told her to “stand on one leg” she should do it without question, she said.
Iram came to police attention in February 2014 after neighbours saw her outside the family home in just a dress and flip-flops, before her husband dragged her back inside by her hair.
Officers realised she had a broken nose and black eye and arrested Ahmed, but they released him the next day when Iram signed a document asking for him to be freed, saying she was not under pressure.
Following the conviction police accepted they could have removed Iram then, sparing her another 18 months with her husband.
DS Pal Singh of the Metropolitan police said:
There are always lesson that the police can learn to improve their practices. With the benefit of hindsight, this case could have perhaps been better placed for the victim if it had started in February 2014, when she first came to police attention.
She eventually left the house in August 2015 after an incident where she tried to kill herself. She phoned the police, who persuaded her to go to a refuge.
Polly Harrar, the founder of the Sharan Project, which helps victims of forced marriages from south Asian communities, said the conviction suggested there were large numbers of victims living similarly restricted lives in the UK.
This case will open the door to more prosecutions. This woman was restricted in terms of going outside the home. She was brought here to be a slave in effect. This is just the tip of an iceberg. We have dealt with many similar cases. This case is really good for raising awareness of the problem.
Offering mitigation for Ahmed, Cathy Ryan said he changed his mind during the gap between their marriage in Pakistan and her arrival in the UK. He was frustrated at the marriage, Ryan said, adding:
It’s right to say that Sumara bore the brunt of this frustration.
Singh, who led the investigation after Iram finally fled the family home in Charlton, south-east London, said it was likely many more such cases existed, and appealed for victims to contact police.
We can help, and as the judge said today, the courts do not accept cultural differences for offending. Neither should the police.
Police have asked the media to not print images of her lest she face retribution.
Hat tip: AgentCormac