Skip to main content

Father denies killing daughter in UK 'honor murder' case

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Wed July 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shafilea Ahmed's father says he is "devastated" to be accused of killing the 17-year-old
  • Shafilea's mother unexpectedly says she saw her husband attack the girl
  • Shafilea's sister testified last month that she saw her parents stuff a plastic bag into her mouth
  • The United Nations estimates there could be 5,000 honor murders per year worldwide

London (CNN) -- A man accused of killing his teenage daughter in England because of her "Westernized" lifestyle denied the murder in court Wednesday.

Iftikhar Ahmed said it was "devastating" to be on trial for murdering his daughter Shafilea, CNN affiliate ITV reported.

He was taking the stand for the first time in a case which has gripped Britain since the 17-year-old disappeared in September 2003.

The court case took a startling turn Monday when Iftikhar's wife Farzana abruptly changed her long-standing story and said she had seen her husband attack their daughter on the night Shafilea died.

Both parents are accused of the murder. One of Shafilea's sisters testified that she saw her parents push Shafilea onto a couch, stuff a bag into her mouth, and hold her down until she suffocated.

Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed have both pleaded not guilty at their trial in Chester, England.

Newspapers, television and radio have all been reporting on the prosecution case that Shafilea's parents killed her because they felt her "Western" lifestyle brought shame on the family.

The teenager's dismembered body was found on a riverbank months after she disappeared. She had been stripped of anything that would identify her, prosecutor Andrew Edis told the jury in May, according to ITV.

Shafilea's sister Alesha testified last month that she saw her parents kill the girl.

Islam doesn't justify 'honor murders,' experts insist

She said her parents were angry that Shafilea was wearing a short-sleeved, V-neck top, and no sweater, on the night she was killed.

"Just end it here," Farzana said to Iftikhar, according to their daughter.

Parents accused of 'honor killing' child

They pushed Shafilea down onto a sofa and suffocated her despite her struggles, Alesha testified.

Prosecutor Edis called it "an act of suffocation by both parents acting together."

Alesha Ahmed did not tell police she had seen the killing until 2010, after she was detained by police in connection with a robbery of the family's home, ITV reported.

She has pleaded guilty to robbery. Prosecutors said she had not been offered any sort of deal in exchange for testifying against her parents.

She has testified that both her parents physically abused Shafilea "every day" over the course of five years, and that her mother did it more "because she was at home more."

On Monday, Farzana unexpectedly said she had seen her husband attack Shafilea. She said that she tried to intervene to protect the girl, but that her husband pushed her away and punched her, ITV reported.

Indian police: Man chops off daughter's head, citing her 'indecent behavior'

"Extremely scared," she fled the room and stayed in a bedroom with other children until she heard a car leaving 20 minutes later.

When her husband returned alone, she asked where their daughter was.

"If you care for your dear life and that of your children, don't ever ask me this question again," he told her, ITV reported.

Farzana Ahmed testified Monday that only one of their children, Mevish, was present when she saw her husband attacking Shafilea.

The jury was told that Shafilea had been taken to Pakistan for a hastily arranged marriage before her death, and drank bleach when her parents suggested she was staying there when the rest of the family returned to England, ITV reported.

She was hospitalized for three months after the family came home because of the bleach incident, Alesha testified.

Alesha testified in May that her parents were very strict with their daughters, ITV reported.

Family convicted in Canada 'honor murders'

"Our family was very restricted. It was very different. The Pakistani culture is more restrictive in terms of what you can wear or do," she said.

The trial began in May and is expected to last several more weeks, prosecutors say.

Reliable figures of the number of honor murders around the world are hard to come by, but the United Nations Population Fund has estimated there could be 5,000 per year.

So-called honor murders are a significant enough problem in Britain that the country's Crown Prosecution Service has an expert specializing in cases in which members of a family kill relatives because of behavior that they say shames the family.

The CPS began keeping statistics on honor violence in April 2010 and prosecuted 234 cases in the following year, just over half of which were successful.

There is a perception that the crime is particularly common among Muslims, but one vocal British campaigner says not all honor violence is perpetrated by Muslims.

Disappearance, then discovery, leads to 'honor killing' outrage

Jasvinder Sanghera, who was the victim of a forced marriage, is not Muslim; she is Sikh.

"Significant cases are happening within South Asian communities, be it Pakistani, Indian, Sikh, Muslim, Kurdish, Iranian, Middle Eastern communities," she said.

The killings take place in many parts of the world, experts say.

Indian father accused of killing baby 'for being a girl'

"It's definitely a problem that happens in many different places: the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh and among immigrant communities in North America," said Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women's rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch.

Several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says.

Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.

CNN's Atika Shubert contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT