Monday, 2 April 2018

THE SHAFIA HONOR MURDERS (part 1)                                     

This is a very long article for you to read in three parts but as you read them, you will be fascinated as to how and why three members of a Muslim family murdered four of their own family members. I got the information from a past edition of Mcleans Magazine that had written a very large article about the murders and from other sources. I have written my own version of the events with the Maclean`s article and other sources as a guide.

An honor killing also known as a  shame killing is the murder of a member of a family which is  due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion. These murders are usually committed for reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their family, having sex outside of marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed to be inappropriate, by engaging in non-heterosexual relations, or renouncing the family’s faith. This horrible practice is generally done by Muslim families. In other words, the families prefer to execute their own family members.  Needless to say, this insidious crime is against the law.

In May 2011, I published an extremely gruesome article in my blog titled, The stoning of Soraya M and other such victims. It is a true story that took place in Iran. Previously, I watch the TV documentary of her being stoned to death after she was buried in the ground up to her neck.

In the year 2000, the United Nations estimated that there were 5,000 honor killings every year. That number might logical for Pakistan alone, but worldwide, the numbers are much greater. In 2002 and again in 2004, the U.N. brought in a resolution to end honor killings and other honor-related crimes. In 2004, at a meeting in The Hague about the rising tide of honor killings in Europe, law enforcement officers from the U.K. announced plans to begin reopening old cases to see if certain murders were  indeed, honor murders. The number of honor killings is routinely underestimated, and most estimates are little more than guesses that vary widely. Definitive or reliable worldwide estimates of honor killing incidence unfortunately do not exist.

India and Pakistan are where a large proportion of all honor killings happen. Using the U.N.’s estimate that 5,000 honor killings occur worldwide each year, the international Honour Based Violence Awareness Network says that around one-fifth of all such murders take place in India, while another fifth occur in Pakistan. Both countries are aware of the problem. In October, the Pakistani government closed a loophole that allowed the perpetrator of an honor killing to go free if the victim’s family—who may have sanctioned the killing—forgives the murderer after receiving a large sum of money from the murderer.  The law still allows the family to save the killer from the death penalty awarded by the court.

In India, police historically recorded honor killings—assuming they were reported—as regular homicides. As a result, the Indian government had no indication of how many honor killings were committed each year, though it knew the problem was significant. In 2014, in an attempt to combat this problem, officials ordered police to list honor killings as a distinct category of murder. Despite this new law, the numbers suggest that the Indian police are still miscategorizing or overlooking hundreds of such deaths. After the government’s edict, Indian police recorded 251 honor killings in 2015, up from 28 in 2014. But even the 251 figure falls far short of the annual estimate of about 1,000 honor killings in India each year.

Although the overwhelming majority of honor killings worldwide occur within Muslim communities, one would not know this by reading the mainstream media. Fearful of being labeled "Islamophobic," the American press has given only glancing attention to the widespread, honor-related ritual murder of Muslim women in the Middle East and South Asia while treating periodic honor killings among Muslim immigrants in the West as ordinary domestic abuse cases.

Over the last few years, however, the media has published a flurry of articles about Hindu honor killings in India, the only non-Muslim-majority country where these murders are still rampant. Apologists for Muslim culture and civilization rushed to herald the upsurge in Hindu (and Sikh) honor killings as evidence that the practice is a universal problem, not just an Islamic issue.

While India is indeed a striking exception to Islam's near monopoly on contemporary honour killings, a statistical survey showed that Hindu honour killings in India to be different in form and commission from those of Muslims in neighboring Pakistan. Though no less gruesome, the Hindu honour killings seem largely confined to the north of India and are perpetuated by sociocultural factors largely specific to India. The millions of Indian Hindus who have immigrated to the West with rare exceptions; do not bring the practice of honour murders along with them. Some of those people who commit honour killings come from Afghanistan.

Now I am going to tell you about a family who came to Canada from Afghanistan in which three of them were the criminals who murdered four of their family members in an honour killing. Most of what I have included in these two articles were downloaded from Maclean’s Magazine with and other sources with some of my own commentary included. And now, the gory tale of abuse and murder of four female family members by their father, mother and older brother.

The family

By Western standards, Mohammad Shafia (the father) is not an educated man. He was born in middle-class Kabul in the early 1950s,; he didn’t reach the seventh grade. But as an entrepreneur, he was gifted and ambitious and also a stingy deal-maker who turned a small electronics shop into a multi-million-dollar import-export operation. His specialties were Panasonic radios and Peacock brand thermoses, shipped in from Japan. “It was only me,” Shafia later told his jury, his pride still evident in his raspy voice. “I had the monopoly on importing those items.”

Like many in Afghanistan, this man‘s first marriage was an arranged one. It was his mother who first spotted young Rona Amir—the pretty daughter of a retired army colonel. Rona later wrote in her native Dari language, “Shafia‘s mother invited all of us to her house so that her son could have a good look at me. After our visit, her son announced his consent.” When one of Rona’s brothers asked if she “accepted” the union, her answer was eerily prescient: “Give me away in marriage if he is a good man; don’t if he is not.” She soon found out that her husband was not a good man.

They were married in February 1979, with a swank reception at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel. The bride wore a frilly dress, baby blue, with a matching veil. The groom sported a purple suit and long sideburns. In one wedding snapshot, Rona and Shafia are smiling beside their cake, three layers covered in pink and yellow icing. “After getting married,” Rona would later write, “my lot in life began a downward spiral.”

Unfortunately, Rona was unable to conceive. For years, she and Shafia tried to have children, even travelling to India for repeated fertility treatments. Nothing worked.

“My husband started picking on me,” she wrote. “He wouldn’t allow me to go visit my mother (in Afghanistan), and at home he would find fault with my cooking and serving meals, and he would find excuses to harass me.” Finally, after nearly a decade without a baby, she told Shafia: “Go and take another wife, what can I do?” She told her husband, “Children are important to us and I want you to find another woman to marry.” He found another woman to marry.

Rona encouraged Mohammad to marry Tooba, who later bore him seven children. Shafia’s new bride was Tooba Mohammad Yahya who was 17 years old and a relative of one of Shafia‘s friends in Canada. Shafia was double her age—old enough to be her father. Shafia later said that it was Rona who handpicked his second bride, and Rona happily planned the reception which was held at the same posh hotel when she and Shafia celebrated their wedding party.

Rona’s recollection was somewhat different. “I was visited with a new catastrophe.” Tooba wasn’t exactly thrilled, either. On the day of Rona’s arrest, while sitting in the back of a police car, an officer asked if she loved her husband. “I was not in love,” she answered, in between sobs. “But I fell in love with him after we got married.”

They were not a family of three for very long. Within weeks of the wedding, Tooba was pregnant with Zainab, the baby her new husband so badly wanted. In September 1989, Shafia held his tiny daughter for the first time, cradling her in the same hands that, years later, would take her life.                                                    

At home, Rona played the obligatory role of surrogate mother by helping Tooba care for the baby and tend to chores while still praying for a child of her own. Yet even then, in the early months of their polygamy, Rona realized what was happening. Tooba, fertile and conniving, had “schemed to gradually separate” her from their shared spouse. “After the son, of Shafia and Tooba— Hamed was born,” Rona wrote, “happiness left me.”

In a diary dripping with heartache, Tooba’s daughter, Sahar was born in October 1991. In a rare moment of joy, Tooba gave her baby girl to her barren fellow wife to raise as her own. That certainly was a kind thin g to do.

But it wasn’t long before Tooba made another announcement.  “Shafie (that was what she called Shafia) should stay three nights with me and one night with Rona. She said that because she had given her own daughter, Sahar to Rona who was agreeable to the arrangement. Soon after, Shafia stopped sleeping with his first wife Rona  altogether.

The family moved to Canada, where the two oldest daughters, Zainab and Sahar, grew increasingly Westernized. There were fights in the home over everything from boys to clothes and both girls were reportedly beaten by their father and brother.

On paper, at least, Mohammad Shafia was the ideal immigrant investor, anxious to funnel his fortune into Quebec’s economy. Within months of his arrival, he bought a $2-million strip mall in Laval (most of it in cash) and launched an import-export firm that dealt in clothing, household goods and construction material. He settled on the upscale suburb of Brossard to build his $900,000 mansion, with plenty of space for all ten members of his clan: himself, two wives, and seven kids.

While waiting for the home to be finished, the Shafias spent two years squished into a rental home in the borough of Saint-Leonard, split between four bedrooms and two bathrooms. They didn’t even bother to unpack most of the furniture from Dubai; instead of beds, the children slept on brown mats spread out on the floor. It looked hardly the home of a globe-trotting businessman.

What happened between those walls, from June 2007 to June 2009, was the subject of so much conflicting testimony that not even the dead know the full truth. But according to the prosecution’s narrative, gleaned through dozens of witnesses, that brick fourplex on Rue Bonnivet was a virtual prison, a remnant of 14th-century Afghanistan smack in the middle of cosmopolitan Montreal. Although Shafia had moved his daughters to the freest of countries (and given them endless money to eat fast food and buy expensive clothes) he expected them to uphold his twisted sense of honour. To this freak, just talking to a strange boy was enough to destroy the family’s reputation.

By the fall of 2007, six months after everyone else arrived, Rona was finally on her way to Canada. She arrived on a temporary visitor visa, her husband’s supposed “cousin” and live-in nanny. Friends and relatives knew that Rona was Shafia‘s first wife, but until she drowned, the government had no idea.

The abuse begins

Rona was greeted by the same old Tooba. “Your life is in my hands,” she would say, according to Rona’s diary. “You are my servant.” Rona moved into a bedroom with Geeti and Sahar, their sleeping mats side by side on the floor.

Hamed slept in another bedroom, as did Zainab and her younger sister. The youngest, slept with her mom and dad in the master suite. Most nights, though, it was just Tooba and the child, as Shafia spent much more time in Dubai than he ever did in Montreal. During those two years before his arrest, he was in Canada for a total of only six months. And during those many overseas business trips, Hamed was left to enforce the house rules as his father’s eyes, ears, and fists.

Zainab, though older, knew full well not to cross her kid brother. They were attending the same Montreal school in February 2008 when a Pakistani classmate sent her a Valentine. She responded with a covert email. “Be aware of my bro,” Zainab wrote. “If my bro is around act like a complete stranger.  We’ll talk if my bro is not around coz  i don’t want to give him the slightest idea that we are  friends.”

Finally, Zainab who was sick of the abuse and fled to a women’s shelter and began making plans to marry her boyfriend. Shafia  and Tooba coaxed her home by promising to allow the wedding.

Ammar Wahid (the male classmate) stuck to the ploy, but it didn’t last long. Barely a month after that email, while both her parents were visiting Dubai, Zainab invited her new boyfriend to the house, unaware that Hamed was on his way there, too. He found Wahid hiding in the garage, shook his hand, and asked him to leave. Zainab-18 years old-never returned to that school, and for the next 10 months she was essentially banished to her room. She didn’t go to school, and couldn’t leave the house without a relative at her side. I should point out that is a common practice in Islamic countries. However, Canada is not an Islamic country.

Sahar was trapped in her own silent hell. She was 16, still adjusting to life in Canada, when her mother accused her of kissing a boy. Tooba even stormed into the school and cornered one of Sahar’s teachers. (Her little sister, “A,” acted as their mom’s translator.) “She was very angry,” said the teacher, Claudia Deslauriers. “She said she did not accept her daughter kissing a boy, and that it did not fall within the parameters of her values.”

Depressed and suicidal, Sahar peeled open one of those white silica gel packets from a shoebox and mixed it with water. Rona and Geeti were hysterical, rushing to Sahar’s side after she drank it. But as Rona recalled in her diary, Tooba didn’t budge from the kitchen: “She can go to hell. Let her kill herself.”

The authorities become involved

Batshaw, Quebec’s anglophone child welfare agency, received a call on May 7, 2008. Red with tears, Sahar was sitting in her vice-principal’s office, spilling everything. Hamed flinging a pair of scissors at her hand. The suicide attempt. Pressure to wear the hijab. “A” the spy. Sahar said her mother had barely talked to her in months, and had ordered the other kids to ignore her, also.

Evelyn Benayoun, a Batshaw intake worker, was on the other end of the phone. “When I initially asked what she wanted, she said: ‘I want my mother to speak to me,’ ” Benayoun said. “She said she was wishing to die that day, but didn’t know how to kill herself.”

The veteran social worker classified the call as a “Code 1,” immediately dispatching a colleague. But when Jeanne Rowe arrived at Antoine-de-St.-Exupery high school, she encountered a very different Sahar. Though still sobbing, she denied everything. “Before I could even meet with her properly, she kept saying: ‘I don’t want you to meet with my parents. I want to go home,’ ” Rowe said. “She was very, very scared of her parents knowing about the report. She didn’t explain why.”

Following protocol, Rowe did phone the house. Tooba arrived at school first, Zainab in tow. She refuted everything, including the suicide story. (Zainab-under house arrest for her own defiance-agreed with her mom, but she did tell the worker that Sahar was “sad” about having to wear the hijab.) Shafia walked in a few minutes later, Hamed at his side. “He was quite angry, and he wanted to know the source of the report,” Rowe said. “I told him I could not give him the source, and he said he would speak to his lawyer because the report was nothing but lies.”

Two days later, when Rowe returned to the school for a follow-up visit, Sahar was wearing a hijab. “There were no tears, but she was still very cautious and minimized the situation,” Rowe recalled. “You have to make an assessment if the child is at risk. The child was not at risk at the time, she wanted to go home, so we closed the case.”

At home, though, nothing changed. Rona spent her days wandering through parks and using pay phones to confide in relatives overseas. “She would go outside and cry,” said Diba Masoomi, her sister. “She was saying: ‘I am fed up with my life and I want God to finish my life. I want to be in an accident.’ “

Life in Dubai

It was in Dubai that Shafia‘s kids tasted Western culture for the first time. Although the UAE is an Islamic country, the children attended a private American school, where they wore uniforms, learned to speak English, and met kids from around the world.

For Rona, though, the move from Dubai left her more marginalized than ever. She wrote about Tooba learning to drive, buying as much gold jewellery as she pleased, and implementing “all the schemes she had” to position herself as the preferred wife. “Not aggressively, through shouting and quarrelling, but gently and smoothly, without putting herself at risk of any censure,” Rona recalled. “Miserable me who wouldn’t question Shafie in regard to anything swallowed everything without a word, because I had no option.” (While in Dubai, Tooba gave birth for the final time. “C,” now in foster care, is subject to the same publication ban as her siblings.)

Although the Shafias stayed in Dubai for more than a decade, they spent much of that time searching for a new home, a place that could offer them citizenship, not just residency. At one point, the family tried to immigrate to New Zealand, but Rona didn’t pass the required medical. They even spent a brief period in Australia, only to return to Dubai within a year. Tooba said she and the children didn’t like Australia, but Rona claimed they were deported because her husband-“the silly fool”-ignored the rules of his visa and purchased property. Whatever the reason, Rona felt the brunt of her husband’s wrath. “Whatever I did, if I sat down, if I got up, if I ate anything, there was blame and censure attached to it,” she wrote. “In short, he had made life a torture for me.”

The abuse continues in Montreal, Canada.

Zainab “ran away” on Friday, April 17, 2009, taking refuge at a women’s shelter. For Shafia, it was a monstrous betrayal. His adult daughter was out in the world, unsupervised, unrestrained. She could be having sex. And even if she wasn’t, people would think that, which is just as bad.

Her courage, her thirst for freedom, is what got her killed just 10 weeks later. But what began as a conspiracy to punish her, and only her, quickly spiralled into mass murder. One bad apple became two bad apples. Two became three. And three became four.

The authorities are contacted by the children

The day Zainab left, news of her disappearance trickled back to her teenaged siblings at school. The four of them (Sahar, Geeti, “A,” and “B”) were so terrified of their father’s reaction that instead of going home, they went to a stranger’s house and asked him to phone the police. Add in Hamed’s attempts, and it was the third 911 call of the afternoon linked to the Shafias’ address.

Ann-Marie Choquette was one of the Montreal constables who responded to the scene. She and her partner found the kids standing on a street corner, still too afraid to go home, and escorted them the rest of the way. Outside the house, Choquette interviewed each of them, alone.

Geeti told the officers about the mall incident the week before, how dad pulled her hair and Hamed punched her in the face. She also said, without hesitation, that Shafia “often threatened that he was going to kill them.” (the other girls)

Choquette noticed that “A” had “a mark near her right eye” and asked about the injury.What “A” said has never been disclosed.

“B,” her brother, told the officers that Hamed kicked him and that his dad threatened to “tear him apart.”

Like Geeti, Sahar said Hamed had slapped her, and that she watched as Shafia beat Zainab because of her boyfriend. She and Geeti also said “they wanted to leave the home because there was a lot of violence” and “they were afraid of their father.”

The kids were still outside when Shafia pulled into the driveway. According to Choquette, he “just looked at the children” and they stopped talking. In tears, “A” immediately recanted whatever it was she said, insisting it wasn’t true.

A worker from DPJ, Quebec’s francophone child welfare agency, was also dispatched to the house that night. (It was Batshaw, the anglophone service that responded to Sahar’s original complaint the year before.) The social worker spoke to Shafia, Tooba, and Hamed, but decided it was safe to leave the kids and continue his investigation after the weekend. Choquette thought there was ample evidence to lay a criminal charge, but following standard protocol, she left that decision to DPJ.

Choquette did see Shafia and Hamed again-that Sunday, at the police station. They were anxious to know if she had any updates on Zainab’s whereabouts. She didn’t.

On April 20, the Monday after Zainab left, the case file landed on the desk of Laurie-Ann Lefebvre, a Montreal detective who worked the child abuse beat. Accompanied by the DPJ worker, she visited the kids’ school and re-interviewed three of the four (“B,” the brother, was absent that day). Although “A” continued to recant, the other two did not back down. Geeti wanted “immediate placement” in foster care because “she had no freedom,” while Sahar provided more details about her abusive older brother. When their dad was away, she said, Hamed was “the boss.”

Sahar was wearing makeup and jewellery, and no hijab. “She explained that she would change her clothes at school in the morning, and again before going home,” Lefebvre said.

No charges were laid. For reasons that remain unclear, DPJ also closed its file. those two decisions were fatal for the four victims who were later murdered by Shafia, his son and his second wife.

The warning signs were everywhere. While Zainab was gone, Geeti didn’t go to school for more than a week. Sahar did, but was often in tears, shielding the truth about her sister by telling teachers and classmates she was in a coma. At the end of April, their daughter still in hiding, Shafia and Tooba were summoned to the school yet again, this time to discuss the kids’ slipping grades and poor attendance.

“The father was really in a state,” said Nathalie Laramée, the assistant principal who convened the meeting. “He was speaking very loudly in my office. ‘What can we do? What can we do?’

Shafia kept repeating the word “policia.” After mom and dad left the meeting, “B” told Laramée that the cops did visit the house, but that things at home were improving. When their brother left, though, Sahar and Geeti told a much different story. “Sahar said: ‘My sister and myself are afraid in the house, and we know that when we are in school we have to be careful because our behaviour is reported back.”

The children and Rona had eight weeks to live. They would be alive today if the authorities paid more attention to what was really going on in the family home and elsewhere.

In Part two, I will tell you about the murders, the investigation, the trial and the sentences given to the murderers.

The murder plot

Zainab was still in the shelter when Rona overheard a conversation so terrifying that she shared it with her sister in France. “I will go to Afghanistan,” Shafia told Hamed and Tooba. “I will prepare the documents, I will sell my property, and I will kill Zainab.”

What about the other one?”

“I will kill the other one, too,” he said.

Rona was sure that “the other one” was her. “She was shivering,” her sister said. “She was afraid. I told her: ‘Don’t be afraid. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Dubai. This is Canada. Nothing will happen.”  How wrong could she be?

That was the time when Rona should have taken the girls out of the house and taken them to as shelter. Alas, she didn’t do that and that decision was what killed them.

In fact, Shafia, his second wife Tooba and his son, Hamed were a horribly abusive trio who wreaked misery on the girls in that family. In reality, those three evil creeps, Shafia his son Hamed and his second wife, Tooba were making plans to kill her and her sisters and their father`s first wife, Rona. When it was discovered that Sahar also had a boyfriend, she was also added to the hit list. Rona and 13-year-old Geeti were also included in the hit list since they could not be counted on to keep the murders secret.

The second part of this lengthy article will follow on WEDNESDAY

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