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Monday, August 6, 2012

Shafilea Ahmed Honour Killing

It's hard to understand how a parent could crave the respect of their community so much, they would kill their own child to save face.  Iftikhar Ahmed 52 and his wife Farzana 49 have finally been brought to justice and will spend a minimum of 25 years each for suffocating their 17 year old daughter Shafilea in 2003.

Jurors heard from Shafilea's younger sister Alesha who said she witnessed the murder when she was 12.  After an argument about what she was wearing, her parents pushed her down on the couch, stuffed a thin, white plastic bag into her mouth and held their hands over her nose and mouth until she was dead.  As she was struggling, her mother said to her husband "Finish it here."

Alesha described how her siblings ran upstairs and she watched her father carry Shafilea's body to the car wrapped in a blanket.  She was reported missing shortly after and her parents made a teary-eyed plea to the media for information about her whereabouts.

Police were convinced the Ahmeds had killed their daughter because a bug they planted in their home recorded the mother ordering her children to say that Shafilea had disappeared. But they couldn't prove it until 2010 when Alesha told police what really happened and entries in a diary belonging to Shafilia's other sister Mevish was enough to convince the jurors.


Melissa Powner was Shafilea's best friend and a key prosecution witness.  She told the court her friend's mother tried to strangle her and kept her away from college until the bruises and scratches faded.  Her parents forced her to reveal her PIN and emptied her bank account of all the money she had saved working  at a call centre part-time. She told her friend that her parents were going to take her to Pakistan and marry her off to a much older cousin.

Melissa Powner

In 2003 Melissa and Shafilea worked out an escape plan and early one morning she climbed out of her window and went into hiding for 10 days.  Her mother kept ringing her mobile, begging her to come home and then one morning as the two friends were walking to college, her father came and took her away.  She said "Oh my God Mel, that's my dad."  They both froze as he pulled over.

Melissa testified:  I said to her run, run now but she just stood rooted to the spot and was shaking.  She pleaded "Don't let him get me, don't."  He took her by the arm and I said "Leave her, she doesn't want to go with you."  He was icily calm, not wanting to draw attention to himself and told me to keep out of it and put her in the car with her still crying and looking at me through the window.

Hysterical and in shock, Melissa ran to few hundred yards to the college reception who called police.  But when officers arrived at the family home, everything seemed fine.  Her father took her to school and waited outside the room while his daughter talked to her teachers and police and convinced them that everything was now okay, they wouldn't force her to go to Pakistan to marry her cousin and promised to change their strict ways.

Her father went to a doctor complaining of chronic insomnia and was prescribed strong sleeping pills.  He ground them up and put them in Shafilia's fruit juice and took the semi-conscious girl to Manchester Airport where the whole family boarded a flight to Pakistan.  Her intended husband, a much older cousin, was waiting in the rural village of Uttam.

When Shafilie discovered the wedding plan she drank bleach in the toilet of her grandparents' home and was rushed back to hospital in the UK where her weight dropped to 5 stone.  She made a slow and painful recovery and in September 2003, then aged 17, during an argument with her parents about the clothes she was wearing, they suffocated her in front of their four other children.  Her body was found months later in the Lake District, decomposing beside a river bank.

Two sisters torn between loyalty to their parents and wanting to tell the truth.  Alesha who spoke at huge personal risk and Mevish who insisted her parents were innocent.  But Mevish gave her diary to a friend to give to police "if anything happened to her" and in it she wrote "They think I don't know but she told me everything in Pakistan, every little thing, but they think I don't know."  And then "Why did the rest sit and watch, it's weird how at night these things come to me, even in my dreams."

Passing sentence, Justice Roderick Evans said "Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.  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 have chosen to live" he said.  "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."

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation said "The 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."

Once Shafilea got to university, it became clear to her that her family life wasn't what she wanted. She craved educational, sexual and professional freedom as a British-born woman, ideals that strict Islamic culture does not embrace.