By Justine Espersen
LONDON – Parents Iftikhar, 52, and Farzana, 49, Ahmed were sentenced today to serve a minimum 25 years in prison after suffocating their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea with a plastic bag in 2003.
Her Pakistani parents murdered their daughter Sept. 11, 2003, as they believed she had brought shame on her family with her Western ways.
After a three-month trial and 11 hours of deliberation Friday, the jury delivered its verdict at the Chester Crown Court in northwest England.
“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,” Justice Roderick Evans said during the sentencing.
Shafilea began to rebel at the age of 10, according to prosecutor Andrew Edis. She would hide make-up, false nails and western clothes at school and then change prior to her parents picking her up.
Younger sister Alesha said she witnessed the murder of her sister at age 12.
Shafilea’s parents pushed her down a couch after an argument over her dress.
Alesha told the jury her mother said, “Just finish it here,” while they forced a plastic bag into Shafilea’s mouth.
Alesha, now 24, recalled seeing her father punching her sister’s body in the chest and watched her mother prepare sheets, garbage bags, and tape in the kitchen. She looked out the window and saw her father carrying a heavy load, assuming it was Shafilea’s body, according to The Guardian.
However, Shafilea’s other siblings contradicted the testimony, but Alesha’s testimony was confirmed in a diary written by a friend a of Shafilea’s sisters, Mev. The friend writes about conversations she had with Mev about the night Shafilea died.
Her death was considered an “honor killing” by her family, as Shafilea was believed to have brought dishonor upon her family and community.
“The strong message goes out and should be very clear: If you engage in honor killings – if you engage in forced marriages – you will be caught and brought to justice,” said Mohammed Shafigq, chief executive of Muslim organization and Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation.
After gaining an interest in boys, Shafilea’s parents began to punish her. School officials alerted social services in October 2002 after Shelia came to school with facial injuries. Later that month, she told a social worker she was to be married in Pakistan of February 2003.
She then attempted to run away January 2003, but returned shortly. Just a month later, she ran away again, pleading to British authorities to allow her to move out. She argued they were abusive and trying to force her into an arranged marriage, according to the Associated Press.
In Shafilea’s application form, she wrote had suffered from domestic violence since she was 15.
“One parent would hold me whilst the other hit me,” she said.
However, when Shafilea ran away in February 2003, her father took her.
“A week later she was drugged and taken to Pakistan,” the judge said. “I have no doubt that your intention was she should remain in Pakistan and be married there.”
Shafilea drank bleach and brought back to Britain May 2003. She was hospitalized for eight weeks and came to a point when “she was no longer wanted as a bride.”
Shafilea was reported missing after the night of her attack in September 2003.
“They were her parents and responsible for her care and wellbeing,” prosecution’s barrister Henry Riding said. “In September 2003, she was in a weakened state [after drinking bleach].”
Her decomposed remains were discovered in the river Kent of Sedgwick, Cumbria in February 2004.
Her parents were arrested in December 2003 on suspicion of Shafilea’s killing, but let them go, as there was insufficient evidence against them.
They were rearrested in 2010 after Alesha’s testimony to her sister’s death.
According to AP, The British government’s Forced Marriage Unit found more than 1,400 cases of forced marriages last year, most which occur in Muslim communities. More than 1.8 million Muslims live in Britain, most with Pakistani roots.