TORONTO - An honour killing expert’s testimony risked fuelling “racial and cultural hatred” against a trio convicted of murdering four female members of their Afghan family, Ontario’s highest court will hear Thursday.
Lawyers for Mohammad Shafia, 62, his second wife, Tooba Muhammad Yahya, 46, and their eldest son, Hamed, 25, will try to overturn their clients’ first-degree murder convictions for killing three sisters and another family member based on several grounds — including the use of this honour-killing expert’s testimony — at the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The use of “overwhelmingly prejudicial evidence” by University of Toronto Prof. Shahzrad Mojab on honour killings enabled the jurors to understand “how a mother, father and brother could kill their own flesh and blood,” lawyers Jonathan Dawe and Michael Dineen wrote in their factum.
Four years ago, Shafia, Yahya and Hamed were sentenced to life imprisonment for the June 2009 drowning deaths of the couple’s three teenaged daughters — Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13 — and Mohammad Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52.
The women’s bodies were discovered submerged in a family car in the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills...Update: Here's how Christie Blatchford reported on the purportedly "prejudicial" expert testimony:
Dr. Mojab, a political refugee from Iran, is a University of Toronto professor who was testifying as an expert in honour killing and its relationship to “culture, religion, patriarchy and violence against women in the Middle East and the diaspora across the world.”
Multilingual, she has conducted original research, written hundreds of scholarly articles and chapters, and co-edited a 2004 book called Violence in the Name of Honour.
She acknowledged her perspective is that of an advocate and a feminist, but also said flatly that there is “no serious debate about the phenomenon” in academia, only arguments about its forms and “how to name it and how to deal with it.”
In patriarchal cultures such as Afghanistan’s, Dr. Mojab said, “cleansing one’s honour of shame is typically handled by the killing of a loved one,” almost always female, with the murderer often ending up being “respected as a true man.
“What masquerades as ‘honour’ is really men’s need to control women’s sexuality,” she told Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger and a jury.
Though she was not asked for comment about the case at bar, her general descriptions of the phenomenon certainly seems to fit the evidence called by prosecutors.
Jurors have heard, for instance, that the Shafia daughters were so desperate for more freedom that Zainab ran away, Sahar tried to kill herself and Geeti begged to be taken into foster care, and that Ms. Amir was deeply unhappy and had raised the possibility of a divorce. The oldest girls also had boyfriends they tried to keep secret.
Any or all of these behaviours, Dr. Mojab said, may be interpreted as stains upon male control of the family — particularly any hint that a woman is having a relationship, especially a sexual one.
“It could be only a rumour which causes the killing of a young woman,” Dr. Mojab said.
“The mere perception that a woman has behaved this way is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.”
The trio on trial here are jointly accused, and though Dr. Mojab said the perpetrators of honour killings are most often “fathers, brothers, uncles,” there are also cases “where females [mothers] participate in the process of meditating [upon], planning and sometimes directly participating” in the slaying...What's "overwhelmingly prejudicial" isn't an explication of what motivates murderous behavior. It's the murderous behavior itself. Hence the conviction.