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Kingston, Ontario - A jury on Sunday found an Afghan father, his wife and their son guilty of killing three teenage sisters and a co-wife in what the judge described as “cold-blooded, shameful murders” resulting from a “twisted concept of honour” in a case that shocked and rivetted Canadians.
Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonoured the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socialising and using the Internet.
The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia's childless first wife in a polygamous marriage.
Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The prosecution alleged it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident after it was carried out. Prosecutors said the defendants drowned their victims elsewhere on the site, placed their bodies in the car and pushed it into the canal.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger said the evidence clearly supported the conviction.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honorless crime,” Maranger said. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour ... that has absolutely no place in any civilised society.”
In a statement following the verdict, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson called honour killings a practice that is “barbaric and unacceptable in Canada.”
Defense lawyers said the deaths were accidental. They said the Nissan car accidentally plunged into the canal after the eldest daughter, Zainab, took it for a joy ride with her sisters and her father's first wife. Hamed said he watched the accident, although he didn't call police from the scene.
After the jury returned the verdicts, Mohammad Shafia, speaking through a translator, said, “We are not criminal, we are not murderer, we didn't commit the murder and this is unjust.”
His weeping wife, Tooba, also declared the verdict unjust, saying, “I am not a murderer, and I am a mother, a mother.”
Their son, Hamed, speaking in English said, “I did not drown my sisters anywhere.”
Hamed's lawyer, Patrick McCann, said he was disappointed with the verdict, but said his client will appeal and he believes the other two defendants will as well.
But prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis welcomed the verdict.
“This jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances,” Laarhuis said outside court.
“This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy,” he said to cheers of approval from onlookers.
The family had left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before settling in Canada in 2007. Shafia, a wealthy businessman, married Yahya because his first wife could not have children.
Shafia's first wife was living with him and his second wife. The polygamous relationship, if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation.
The prosecution painted a picture of a household controlled by a domineering Shafia, with Hamed keeping his sisters in line and doling out discipline when his father was away on frequent business trips to Dubai.
The months leading up to the deaths were not happy ones in the Shafia household, according to evidence presented at trial. Zainab, the oldest daughter, was forbidden to attend school for a year because she had a young Pakistani-Canadian boyfriend, and she fled to a shelter, terrified of her father, the court was told.
The prosecution said her parents found condoms in Sahar's room as well as photos of her wearing short skirts and hugging her Christian boyfriend, a relationship she had kept secret. Geeti was becoming almost impossible to control: skipping school, failing classes, being sent home for wearing revealing clothes and stealing, while declaring to authority figures that she wanted to be placed in foster care, according to the prosecution.
Shafia's first wife wrote in a diary that her husband beat her and “made life a torture,” while his second wife called her a servant.
The prosecution presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court to support their honour killing allegation. The wiretaps, which capture Shafia spewing vitriol about his dead daughters, calling them treacherous and whores and invoking the devil to defecate on their graves, were a focal point of the trial.
“There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this,” Shafia said on one recording. “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows ... nothing is more dear to me than my honour.”
Defense lawyers argued that at no point in the intercepts do the accused say they drowned the victims.
Shafia's lawyer, Peter Kemp, said after the verdicts that he believes the comments his client made on the wiretaps may have weighed more heavily on the jury's minds than the physical evidence in the case.
“He wasn't convicted for what he did,” Kemp said. “He was convicted for what he said.” - Sapa-AP
Please can the reporters not confuse the hell out of people. It would have been nice to know in the first paragraph who the girls were.
The tragedy here is that the perpetrators would, I believe, not be more murderous or bloodthirsty than any other person (were they not 'infected' with crazy ideas) - they themselves are merely following through on what they believe is prescribed. To resolve this, we have to look at where they get that preion - and the preion undeniably lies in a bronze-aged mindset; a set of instructions laid down in a religious book. Am right so far? But what kind of book would say this and why would people follow it so literally? Well, those of a Judeao-Christian bent already do know this: the Old Testament is full of incitement to such heinous acts. People who fall under the spell of religion are apt to take it literally; they are like people infected with a madness that cannot easily be understood by those not infected. The study of this peculiarity is called "Memetics". Memes are the DNA of culture; they act, propagate, and mutate through culture in exactly the same way as DNA underpins and governs the physical world of living things. If you are truly interested in finding answers to the madness, simply run a google search and-or read a few good books on the topic. You'll be amazed by what you learn.
Daddy dearest. May their souls rest in peace...
abdi alrahim, wrote
@religion is bad; but are we talking about 9 year olds marrying 50 year olds or are we talking about honour killings, as for aisha, people (muslim scholars) have not even concluded her real age and yet, you my friend with no knowledge of islam can conclude? in islam things are considered before marriage, like maturity (of the body and mind), mutual acceptance and understanding, between the individuals and families, and other agreements, now are these things ignrored sometimes? yes of cause, does it represent muslims, you don't judge a religion on the acts of a few individuals, how many of your muslim friends (if you have any), are married to 9 year olds? or physically attracted to 9 year olds? take things into perspective
Huf Lung Dung, wrote
These mumpaaraas want the western way of life and all the nice things that comes with it......but they bring their old habits with them...they should be deported back to their hell hole.
Religion is bad, wrote
@ abdi alrahim: okay, assuming that you are correct and we can't blame muslism for these deaths. Can we or cant we blame islam for child marriages in Nigeria, where 52 year old men marry 9 year old girls. and when they get told that they shouldnt marry children, they say they can becuase the prophet did. He married his second wife ayesha when she was 9 and consumated the marriage when she was 13. Can we blame islam for that or now?
Khalsa Singh, wrote
A few Muslims will now call this unislamic. But why are Muslims around the world not rioting and protesting now? Surely that would be a clearer signal that they are against so called honour killings?
I'm amazed how ignorant some of these commentators are!Nobody in ANY society is given free reign to kill or murder. If you kill, you are on your own. No society is going to support you and no religion either.
Have you ever known someone who has been murdered?...An eye for an eye.
Isn't religion a wonderful thing... it can justify all manner of torture and murder. When we ascribe to a culture, a sect, a cult, etc; by association we take the blood on its hands onto our hands; where that cult is a 'serial offender' and we persist with our membership, we become culpable. I am not attacking Islam - it is a relatively young offshoot of it's Abrahamic cousin religions - Christianity (Islam is 600 years younger) and Judaism (another 2,000 onto that); both of whom only recently matured out of this overtly murderous phase of development. If you disagree, consider the atrocities christians were openly committing in or around the 1400's and you appreciate that Islam is quite moderate by comparison. My point being - all religion is a corruption of the mind-software; a mind virus that infects with thought patterns that are, by all measures, delusional.
A few bad apples in the barrel...
Religion of peace?
abdi alrahim, wrote
its a cultural and deep rooted in the mindset of keeping to your own, it happened in south africa when whites and blacks married or dated with each other and it still happens today in south africa whereby families disapprove of interracial or intertribal marriages, anyone blaming islam for this act is actually uneducated or plain ignorant
Yaaaah for Religion!
Religion is bad, wrote
@ Fatima - Tell the dead girls that honour killings are unislamic. While you are at it, go to Nigeria and tell all the 9 year old girls there who are being forced to marry 50 year old men that child marriage is also unislamic. Without arguing about whether or not religion itself is bad, nobody can deny that the men do terrible things and use the bible to justify it. Truth is, if the family weren't muslim, those girls would probably not be dead today. When you are the one suffering, you dont care whether or not your attacker is misinterpreting a holy text.
Avner Eliyahu Romm, wrote
@William- The death penalty is the most logical penalty for this kind of cold blooded murder of a helpless member of ones own family. This had been the penalty throughout history, until some crazy people came along and decided that it is more humane to lock people for life. In any case, if these murderous family members murder their own family for being modern, then even if they are afraid of death they should die, because this is the traditional was, as they support it.
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Stevin Weinberg
How can murdering someone, be considered honourable?
There is nothing honourable in killing a person. I don't think that any religion would endorse taking someone elses life.
Honour killings are totally unislamic. Its a cultural thing and has no place in any society.