Italian court jails parents for life over ‘honour killing’ of Pakistani teen

File photo of a protest against gender violence in Pakistan
Image caption,File photo of women protesting against so-called honour killings in Pakistan

An Italian court has given a Pakistani couple life sentences for killing their 18-year-old daughter because she refused an arranged marriage.

Saman Abbas’s body was found at a farmhouse in northern Italy in November 2022, 18 months after she disappeared.

Her father, Shabbar Abbas, was arrested in Pakistan and extradited to be tried for her murder in August.

Her mother, Nazia Shaheen, was convicted in her absence. She is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan.

Shabbar Abbas had earlier made an impassioned plea to the court, asserting that “never in my life did I think of killing my daughter”.

The teenager’s uncle, Danish Hasnain, was given 14 years in jail for involvement in the murder, but two of her cousins were cleared.

Saman Abbas’s so-called honour killing by her family in late April 2021 shocked Italy. Following her disappearance, Italy’s union of Islamic communities issued a fatwa – a religious ruling – rejecting forced marriages.

The teenager had emigrated with her family from Pakistan to the farm town of Novellara in 2016, according to Italian reports.

She began dating a young man of Pakistani origin, and a photograph of them kissing on a street in the regional capital, Bologna, reportedly drew the fury of her parents.

Italian investigators said Saman Abbas’s parents had wanted her to travel to Pakistan for an arranged marriage in 2020, but she refused.

She then lived for several months under the protection of social services from October that year, but returned to the family home in Novellara in late April 2021 in response to a flurry of messages from her family, Italian reports said.

Prosecutors said she had been tricked into returning home and it was at this point she disappeared.

CCTV footage released by the police showed three of Saman Abbas’s family members walking with spades, a crowbar and a blue bag on 29 April 2021. The following day, separate footage showed the missing teenager leaving the house with her parents.

Her body was eventually recovered last November, close to a farm house not far from where the family lived, after her uncle had revealed where she had been buried.

A post mortem examination found she had suffered a broken neck bone, possibly as a result of being strangled.

Picture showing men with a spade
Image caption,Members of the family holding spades were captured on video in late April

Her parents had immediately left Italy for Pakistan after she disappeared, while her uncle Danish Hasnain and two of her cousins travelled to France and Spain.

The uncle was eventually detained in Paris in 2021, while her father was arrested in 2022 and finally extradited on 31 August this year. Her mother remains at large.

Although Nazia Shaheen was in absentia, the court in the northern city of Reggio Emilia convicted both parents and sentenced them to life in jail.

Shabbar Abbas had earlier told the court he was innocent, insisting he and his wife had only followed their daughter on the night she disappeared because they were unhappy it was so late and they wanted to see where she was going.

“This trial is not complete. I too want to know who killed my daughter,” he said, according to Italian media.

The idea that a murder can be “honourable” is believed to have come from some tribal customs, where an allegation against a woman is perceived to bring dishonour to her family.

According to these customs, male family members of a woman who has interactions with unrelated men – however innocuous – should first kill the woman, then go after the man.

Human rights groups say the most common reasons for “honour killings” are when the victim refuses to enter into an arranged marriage or have been raped or sexually assaulted.

But killings can be carried out for more trivial reasons, like dressing in a way deemed inappropriate or displaying behaviour seen as disobedient.

In Pakistan, hundreds of women are killed in this way each year. A much smaller number of men are also murdered in such cases.

Last month, an 18-year-old woman in the remote Kohistan district was shot dead by her father and uncle on orders from tribal elders – because of a photo that showed her with a man.

The photo, which went viral, was later found to have been doctored. Her father has been arrested while her uncle is on the run.

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