TORONTO (AP) – At least one of the three members of an Afghan family found guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman intends to appeal the conviction, the man’s lawyer said Monday.
Prosecutors said the defendants killed the four women because they dishonored the family by defying its strict rules on dress, dating, socializing and using the Internet. The killings horrified Canadians and were condemned by Canadian Muslim groups, which called for an end to honor killings.
A jury on Sunday found Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in what the judge said resulted from a “twisted concept of honor.”
Hamed Shafia’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, said his client will appeal and he believes the other two will as well.
“He’s determined to press on and continue the fight,” McCann said.
Lawyers for the parents did not respond to messages seeking comment. The three are facing life in prison because first-degree murder in Canada carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
After the verdict was read, the three 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.
In recent years a number of so-called honor killings in Canada have prompted debate about absorbing immigrants into the mainstream and dealing with culture clashes between immigrant parents and their children. Even before the trial, Rona Ambrose, the women’s affairs minister, had said the federal government was considering making such killings a separate category in the criminal code.
Ambrose took to Twitter to comment after the verdict: “Honor _ motivated violence is NOT culture, it is barbaric violence.”
The bodies of the women 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 said it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident. Prosecutors said the defendants drowned their victims, then placed their bodies in the car and pushed it into the canal.
The jury heard testimony that Zainab’s sisters, Sahar and Geeti, were hounded and trailed by their brothers because the parents suspected them of dating boys; that Sahar repeatedly said her father would kill her if he found out she had a boyfriend; that she had bruises on her arms; that Mohammad, the first wife who was helping to raise the children, also was brutally treated.
Prosecutor Laurie Lacelle presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court. In one phone conversation, the father says his daughters “betrayed us immensely.”
“Even if they hoist me up to the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honor. There is nothing more valuable than our honor,” Lacelle quoted Shafia as saying in a transcript.
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.
McCann said the problem with the prosecution’s case is that it “involved the necessity of them being all incapacitated ahead of time yet their is nothing in the evidence to suggest where or how or when that could have been done.”
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 polygamy, if revealed, could have resulted in the family’s 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.
More than 80 Canadian Muslim organizations, imams and community leaders signed a call for action late last year against “the reality of domestic violence within our own communities, compounded by abhorrent and yet persistent pre-Islamic practices rooted in the misguided notion of restoring family honor.”
Syed Soharwardy, a Calgary-based imam, said the case motivated him to reach out to young women who are oppressed at home.
Aysan Sev’er, a professor at the University of Toronto specializing in the study of violence against women, said crimes involving a family’s reputation involve deep-rooted social traditions and extensive collaboration with others.
“There’s a community component both in terms of putting pressure on the people and later on trying to justify, whitewash it, reduce the severity and so on,” she said.
The United Nations reports 5,000 females die from honor killings each year around the world.
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