U of T professor Shahrzad Mojab testified as the prosecution expert witness in the “honour killing” trial in Kingston that concluded last Monday.
The Kingston jury convicted Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed Shafia, 21, of first-degree murder on January 30. All three received life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.
Mojab teaches master’s- and doctoral-level classes in the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at U of T. She is also the former director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute. Her research has focussed on honour killings, and she coedited the book Violence in the Name of Honour: Theoretical and Political Challenges.
Mojab gave expert testimony on what an honour killing entails to assist the jury in reaching a verdict. She did not give her opinion, but instead explained the difference between an honour killing and domestic violence and the role that religion plays. Mojab explained that “honour murders” (her clarification of the term) in this case are seen as a way to cleanse one’s family of shame and regain honour through the shedding of blood.
The four victims, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13, and Rona Amar Mohammad, 52, were found dead, floating inside the family’s partially submerged Nissan Sentra in the Kingston Mills Lock on June 28, 2009. Rona was Shafia’s first wife and the children were three of seven from his second marriage to Yahya.
The shame Mojab referred to was, according to the defence, caused by the three sisters pursuing a more “Canadian” lifestyle. Zainab ran away and married a man the family did not approve of and Sahar wore “revealing” clothes and had a boyfriend. The youngest, Geeti, sought out social workers to help her be put in a foster home. Their stepmother was murdered as well because she allowed the girls to behave in this way.
According to Mojab, Shafia saw the behaviour of the women as shameful, because the patriarch no longer had control over them. An honour murder would restore the family’s honour, using blood as purification.
According to the prosecution, the eldest son, Hamed, under instructions from his father, used a second family car to ram the Nissan containing the four bodies into the seven-foot deep lock. The prosecution also believes the women were dead before the car entered the water, as their seatbelts were still fastened and they had apparently made no effort to escape as the car sank.
Mojab emphasized that honour killings are not inherently part of Islam and are found in many religions, distancing the religious factors from the case.
“There is a very important difference between honour killing and violence against women in the form of domestic violence. It is plotted; it is premeditated,” Mojab said in an interview with CNN.
Judge Robert Maranger gave Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Yahya immediate life sentences because the act was premeditated.
Mojab was the last of the prosecution’s witnesses and testified last week. The trial lasted three months; it was delayed in November when Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger put the trial on hold after Mohammad Shafia was hospitalized for cardiac problems.
After the ruling, the defence argued that Mojab’s testimony was openly biased, as she has devoted much of her life to eradicating honour killings and other crimes against women, moving for an appeal. The Canadian Press reports that Hamed Shafia plans on appealling his conviction, but no date has been set.