London (CNN) — In a trial that has been front-page news in Britain, a woman accused with her husband of killing their daughter in an alleged “honor murder” abruptly changed her defense this week and implicated her husband in the teen’s death.
Ifitkar Ahmed and his wife Farzana are on trial in Chester, England, accused of killing their daughter Shafilea, 17, (pictured left) in September 2003. They have pleaded not guilty.
Newspapers, television and radio have all been reporting on the prosecution case that Shafilea’s parents killed her because they felt her “western” lifestyle brought shame on the family.
On Monday, Farzana said she had seen her husband attack Shafilea. She said she tried to intervene to protect the girl, but that her husband pushed her away and punched her, CNN affiliate ITV reported.
“Extremely scared,” she fled the room and stayed in a bedroom with other children until she heard a car leaving 20 minutes later.
When her husband returned alone, she asked where their daughter was.
“If you care for your dear life and that of your children, don’t ever ask me this question again,” he told her, ITV reported.
Shafilea’s sister testified last month that she saw her parents kill Shafilea by stuffing a plastic bag into her mouth.
Alesha Ahmed, Shafilea’s younger sister, did not tell police she had seen the killing until 2010, ITV reported.
Farzana Ahmed testified Monday that only one of their children, Mevish, was present when she saw her husband attacking Shafilea.
Reliable figures of the number of honor murders around the world are hard to come by, but the United Nations Population Fund has estimated there could be 5,000 per year.
So-called “honor murders” are a significant enough problem in Britain that the country’s Crown Prosecution Service has an expert specializing in cases where members of a family kill relatives over behavior which they say shames the family.
The prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, told CNN earlier this year that convicting perpetrators can be difficult.
“There is a wall of silence around this, and people are not prepared to talk,” he said.
But Afzal insisted that it was “absolutely important that you bring every single person to justice because you want to deter other people from doing it.”
There is a perception that the crime is particularly common among Muslims, but one vocal British campaigner says not all honor violence is perpetrated by Muslims.
Jasvinder Sanghera, who was the victim of a forced marriage, is not Muslim; she is Sikh.
“Significant cases are happening within South Asian communities, be it Pakistani, Indian, Sikh, Muslim, Kurdish, Iranian, Middle Eastern communities,” she said.
Prosecutor Afzal says “no faith on Earth” justifies killing.
“At the end of the day, murder is murder,” he said. “Abrahamic faiths say ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ At the end of the day, nobody should die for this.”
The killings take place in many parts of the world, experts say.
“It’s definitely a problem that happens in many different places: the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh and among immigrant communities in North America,” said Nadya Khalife, a researcher on women’s rights in the Arab world for Human Rights Watch.
Several Arab countries and territories, including Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, have laws providing lesser sentences for honor murders than for other murders, Human Rights Watch says.
Egypt and Jordan also have laws that have been interpreted to allow reduced sentences for honor crimes, the group says.