A couple is accused of murdering their teenage daughter for trying to go on dates with boys, an act her parents say brought shame on them, making her into a daughter they could never be proud of, a court has heard.
Shafilea Ahmed was just 17 years old when her dismembered, badly-decomposed body was found washed up on a riverbank, in February 2004, nearly five months after one of her former teachers reported her missing.
Now, nine years later, her Pakistan-born parents, Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and Farzana, 49, sit in a UK courtroom on trial for her murder.
The prosecution alleges the couple killed their daughter because Shafilea tried to go on dates with young boys, the Telegraph reports.
“In particular she wanted to have boyfriends like most 16 and 17-year-old girls do, and that caused an intense pressure in the family," said Prosecutor Andrew Edis at Chester Crown Court.
So that she would behave in the way they expected, Edis said they embarked on a "campaign of domestic violence to force her to conform".
The court heard that in January 2003, she ran away from home after being told that she was being taken to Pakistan in an attempt to force her into a marriage.
She was coaxed back home on the promise she would not have to go. It was a lie. So she ran away again. Edis told the jury that this time her father “effectively recaptured – abducted” and took her to rural Pakistan.
On the trip she drank bleach in an act of desperation when her parents tried to bully her into marriage with her cousin, Sky News reports.
It caused such serious damage to the teenager’s throat that she was admitted to Warrington General Hospital as soon as she returned to Britain.
Once there, she spoke to a fellow patient, named Foisa Aslam.
Aslam later told police that she asked Shafilea why she drank the bleach.
"You don't know what they did to me there," Shafilea said.
The court heard that Shafilea told Aslam that the Ahmeds had accepted a rishta (or formal offer of marriage) for her.
"That was why she said she drank the bleach," Edis said.
But according to the BBC, the prosecution has the bleach story all wrong. Her parents said Shafilea wasn't trying to kill herself, just freshen her breath.
Indeed, they said the 17-year-old A-level student who dreamed of becoming a lawyer actually drank the bleach by mistake –– thinking it was mouthwash.
"You don't drink bleach by accident," Edis said, according to the Independent. "Bleach smells strong. It doesn't smell of mouthwash."
Upon her return from Pakistan she began complaining to friends that her parents were being violent towards her.
Alesha, Shafilea's younger sister, who is under the witness protection program, took the stand and said that her parents' Pakistani culture meant she and her sister were "restricted in terms of Western culture", which included the clothes they could wear and when they could go out. Her sister did not comply.
Song lyrics found in Shafilea Ahmed's bedroom after the murder detail her private anguish:
I don't pretend like we're the perfect family no more
Desire to live is burning
My stomach is turning
But all they think about is honor
I was like a normal teenage kid
Didn't ask 2 much
I just wanted to fit in
But my culture was different
But my family ignored
Her parents took away her mobile phone, removed money from her bank account and forced her to leave a part-time job, the Telegraph says.
The 23-year-old told the jury that the abuse had been at its worst when their parents had reacted to Shafilea having male friends.
Alesha described one occasion in the kitchen at the family home.
"I can actually picture it," she said.
"There were knives used to scare her or threaten her."
She said both of her parents had knives and Shafilea had been sitting on the floor.
"They were just hitting her," she told the court.
Asked how often the violence occurred Alesha answered: "Too often".
On another occasion Shafilea was left in a room without food for several days, the jury was told.
The violence also meant she was frequently absent from school. Joanne Code, the teacher who reported Shafilea missing, said she called her home wondering about her continuing absence from school.
After a conversation with Iftikhar Ahmed, Code insisted on speaking to the teenager herself.
"Do I need to be worried about you?” Code asked her.
“Yes,” Shafilea replied.
More song lyrics describe things at home getting worse:
I Feel Trapped
It was my last year in school
So happy with my friends, I got lots to do
But came this day when everything changed
I came home, it seemed like a normal day
But sumthing wasn't right
I wish I coulda changed the event
I shoulda killed myself instead
I'd rather have been dead
Coz now I have a burden on my chest
And no it won't go away, the guilt, the pain
Chorus: I feel trapped so trapped, I'm trapped
I'm trapped, so trapped I'm trapped
(I don't know wot to do) I feel trapped
After spending the best part of 12 months trying to really crush her, the defendants realized they were never going to be able to succeed, so they decided to murder her, Edis said.
“They had despaired of her ever becoming a daughter they could ever be proud of,” he said.
So on ––September 11, 2003 –– at the family home in Warrington, Cheshire, they did just that.
Prosecutor Edis told the court the younger sister had seen her mother and father murder her sister.
She told police she watched her parents suffocate her sister by forcing a carrier bag into her throat so she couldn't breathe and placing their hands over her face, a court heard on Tuesday, the Guardian reports.
The then 14 year old sister saw her parents in the kitchen with bin bags and tape, wrapping the body up, the jury heard.
Afterwards she saw her father outside and heard a car driving off.
Her parents have pleaded not guilty.