(From top) Iftikhar Ahmed,wife Farzana and his daughter Shafilea
London, Aug. 3: A Pakistani couple, Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, were given life sentences today for murdering their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea who they felt had become “too westernised”.
Their conviction at their trial at Chester Crown Court became inevitable because the witness to the killing was Shafilea’s sister, Alesha, who was only 15 at the time of the murder on September 11, 2003.
This is a singularly dark case which will leave the majority of the British people baffled as they try to understand the fundamental question: why would parents want to kill their own daughter?
Crying in the witness box, Alesha had earlier told the trial that her parents held down a terrified Shafilea on the settee in their living room as a plastic bag was forced into her mouth. “You could tell she was gasping for air,” she said before adding that Shafilea “wet herself because she was struggling so much”. Asked what happened next, she told the court: “That was it, she was gone.” Her sister’s body was lifeless.
The children were later told to say nothing to the authorities amid a fear that they would suffer the same fate as their sister.
Shafilea’s decomposed remains were discovered in the Kent river in Cumbria in February 2004.
But it was not until 2010 that Alesha provided the “final piece of the puzzle” about her death, the prosecution said.
When the trial began, both Iftikhar and Farzana said they were innocent. Then Farzana dramatically changed her evidence and claimed only her husband was responsible for Shafilea’s disappearance.
Husband and wife will both have to serve a minimum of 25 years in prison. Shafilea’s father showed no emotion as he was sentenced but his wife sobbed loudly.
Iftikhar has picked up some colloquial English, though. He turned to police officers sitting near the dock and said: “F*** off.”
There is a code of honour in a British prison where some crimes are beyond the pale. Other prisoners will almost certainly see to it that Iftikhar’s initiation into prison life is not pleasant.
Today, the couple’s surviving children all broke down in tears. Apart from Alesha, there is Mevish, 21, who was 12 when her sister was killed; and brother Junyad who was 13 then — even at that age he distinguished himself by backing his father and saying Shafilea got what she had deserved.
The youngest Ahmed child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was just seven years old. The trial heard from Alesha that her parents repeatedly attacked and abused Shafilea as she grew up. She seemed drawn to a western lifestyle, did not want to wear traditional clothes and would not agree to an arranged marriage in Pakistan. When forced to go to Pakistan, she drank corrosive bleach and was brought back to receive urgent treatment.
Alesha’s version of events was corroborated in writings her younger sister Mevish gave to her friend Shaheen Munir in 2008, which emerged shortly after the start of Alesha’s evidence.
There have been several other cases where young women have been killed by their own male relatives but Shafilea’s murder is perhaps the most disturbing to have come to trial in the past half century since immigration from Pakistan began. Though most victims tend to be Pakistani, there have some Indian women, too, who have been victimised.
Trial judge Mr Justice Roderick Evans told Iftikhar and Farzana: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child.”
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?”
He continued: “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.”
He said: “However, you could not tolerate the life that Shafilea wanted to live. You wanted your family to live in Pakistan in Warrington. Although she went to local schools, you objected to her socialising with girls from what has been referred to as the white community. You objected to her wearing western clothes and you objected to her having contact with boys.”
He said: “On the evening of September 11, 2003, you berated her for her behaviour and in temper and frustration you two suffocated her. It was you, Farzana Ahmed, who said to your husband: ‘Finish it here’.”
He analysed the dilemma of the parents. “In order to rid yourselves of that problem, you killed Shafilea by suffocating her in the presence of your other four children.”
The judge said: “I express no concluded view on whether Junyad (their son) played any part in the killing of his sister. But I have no doubt that, as the result of the distorted upbringing and values to which you subjected him, he told his surviving sisters within minutes of them seeing Shafilea murdered by you that Shafilea deserved it.”
“Thereafter, you got rid of her body by dumping it or having it dumped in undergrowth on a riverbank in Cumbria and you told your children what to tell anybody who asked about the disappearance of Shafilea,” the judge said. “You killed one daughter, but you have blighted the lives of your remaining children. Alesha escaped but she is unlikely to be able to avoid the legacy of her upbringing.”
He went on: “Mevish, after a period of trying to live independently, was recaptured and brought home, and has since become compliant with your wishes.”
He added: “As to Junyad, he remains supportive, especially of you Iftikhar Ahmed. Whether that is simply out of filial affection or the result of the warped values you instilled in him is impossible to tell. There is only one sentence that I can impose upon you and that is a sentence of imprisonment for life.”