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Two Afghan immigrants and their son have been convicted of murdering four women in their family. They were charged with first-degree murder for these so-called “honor killings” and were sentenced to 25 years in jail with no chance of parole by a court in Kingston, Ontario. The jury deliberated for two days before Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mahommad Yahya, and their son Hamed were declared guilty.
Judge Robert Maranger deemed the murders “heinous” and “cold-blooded” and believed the evidence backed up the verdict. He said, “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor.
It’s a sick notion of honor that has no place in a civilized society.” Mohammad Shafia and his wife protested this statement. Tooba Yahya proclaimed in her defense, “I am not a murderer. I am a mother,” and her husband responded, “We are not criminals. We are not murderers. We didn’t commit murder. This is unjust.”
After the verdict was given, Rob Nicholson, the Canadian Justice Minister, said the custom of “honor killings” is “barbaric and unacceptable in Canada.” The couple’s defense attorneys plan to appeal their sentences.
The victims were their three daughters, Zainab Shafia, Sahar Shafia, and Geeti Shafia, and Shafia’s first wife from his polygamous marriage, Rona Amir Mohammad. Many witnesses testified against the family and spoke of the abuse and death threats the four women had to endure. The eldest two daughters had boyfriends without their father’s permission which was another point of contention. The four women’s bodies were discovered in a submerged car near Kingston at a Rideau Canal lock in 2009.
The prosecutors said that the couple and their son attempted to cover up the ‘honor killings’ and make the murders look like an accident. It was thought that the father was ashamed of his daughters for damaging their family’s reputation through their choice in clothes and for reporting to school officials the abuse they experienced at home. Their internet use and socializing also were thought to have shamed the family, according to the prosecution.
The defense attorneys in turn claimed that the eldest daughter stole the car for fun late one night while the family was asleep in a motel on their way back from vacation. Their bodies were found the next morning. Hamed stated that he saw the accident, but did not phone the police from the scene. According to Chief Stephen Tanner, an email was received from a person who was most likely a family member, claiming that the supposed accident was, in reality, an “honor killng”.
Proscutor Gerard Laarhuis said of the guilty verdict, “This jury found that four strong, vivacious, and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances.” There have been 13 honor killings in Canada since 2002. These types of slayings are more common in the Middle East and South Asia, and most of the victims are women.