In July 2016, Bradford beauty therapist Samia Shahid flew to Pakistan to visit her family, amid the news that her beloved father was gravely ill. Six days later, the apparently healthy 28-year-old was found dead.
Shahid had been living in Dubai with her second husband Syed Mukhtar Kazam, who was informed by her family that his wife had suffered a heart attack. However, Kazam strongly suspected his wife had fallen victim to a so-called honour killing.
The couple had been married just two years, tying the knot shortly after Shahid obtained a divorce from her first husband Choudhry Shakeel. She had wed Shakeel, a first cousin from her village in Pakistan, as part of an arranged marriage to please her family, but left him upon falling in love with Kazam.
Kazam believes Shahid was killed because her family did not approve of their marriage. On Wednesday BBC2 will examine the case in detail in a documentary entitled Murdered For Love? Samia Shahid.
What happened to Samia Shahid?
Shahid was visiting her family in the village of Pandori in northern Punjab when she died in July 2016.
A police spokeswoman said the authorities were alerted to Shahid’s death by her parents on 20 July. She said: “The parents of Samia Shahid at the time told police they saw some fluid coming out from her mouth and that she was found dead in her room.”
Shahid’s heartbroken husband Kazam was informed she had died of natural causes, but he told media outlets he believed his wife had been murdered. In the programme he recalls his “helpless” fear as he dropped Shahid off at the airport and how he believes she was deliberately lured back to Pakistan with “lies” that her diabetic father Mohammed Shahid was seriously ill.
Later that month, Shahid’s former husband Shakeel was arrested on suspicion of her murder, alongside her father. Shakeel admitted to police that he had drugged and strangled the young woman - but confessions obtained under police custody in Pakistan are not admissible in criminal proceedings.
A post-mortem examination confirmed Shahid died by being strangled and Shakeel, who now denies rape and murder, awaits trial in Pakistan. Prosecutors are expected to call for the death penalty if he is convicted. Shahid’s father had been held as a suspected accessory but died in January while on bail. Her mother and sister are alleged to have fled the country and their whereabouts is unknown.
Pressure from the UK
Bradford MP Naz Shah, who was herself forced into an arranged marriage at the age of just 15, wrote to Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, demanding Shahid’s body was exhumed and an independent autopsy carried out.
“This case does fit that classic picture and circumstances of ‘honour killing’, ” said Shah in her letter. “If this is true, we must ensure justice is done for Samia and we must ensure this never happens again,” she added.
Following pressure from Shah, an urgent probe into the death was opened by Pakistani authorities.
Speaking to HuffPost UK ahead of the programme going live, Shah said: “By July it will be two years since her death. It took a lot of work to get to this point but we have had our victories.
“Samia’s death is symbolic of the fact that we still have work to do. It is symbolic of the struggle of women and women’s rights. We need to get to a stage where violence against women is violence against women regardless of the culture.”
What is ‘honour killing’?
Pakistani human rights NGOs estimate there are around 1,000 “honour-killings” every year.
In 2015 a further 900 women suffered sexual violence and nearly 800 took or tried to take their own lives.
The UN states over 5,000 ‘honour killings’ are reported annually worldwide, though this is believed to be an underestimation as many are never reported because of the ‘shame’ they would bring upon the family. No cases are registered, no bodies are found and no investigations take place.
Relatives - fathers, brothers, husbands and even mothers - who believe the woman in question has inflicted shame and dishonour upon them, almost always carry out the executions.
They are deeply rooted in patriarchal and conservative cultures where the ‘honour’ of the family is measured by the obediance, chastity and morality of its women.
The former Chairman of the Conservative Party said: “These are crimes to control women and they are used against women who usually exercise choice in their own lives.
“Some of them are abuse, controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour and some of them tragically result in murder. But to define the whole plethora of crimes in this area from forced marriage to FGM to abuse, to control to murder, this phrase honour-based violence is a term that’s now used not just in the UK but actually internationally.
“Why do men bask in honour and women carry the burden of shame?”
Murdered For Love? Samia Shahid will air on BBC2 at 9pm on 21 February.
Muslim Women’s Network UK is a source of support for women who are being forced into unwanted marriages.