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British court convicts parents in 'honor' murder

From Laura Perez Maestro, CNN
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
  • NEW: Couple more concerned about shame than their daughter, judge scolds
  • Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed are sentenced to life in prison in their daughter's death
  • Prosecutors: Shafilea Ahmed, 17, was killed her because of her Westernized lifestyle
  • Her dismembered body was found on a riverbank months after she disappeared in 2003

London (CNN) -- The parents of a 17-year-old girl will spend at least 25 years in a British prison for the death of their daughter after the couple's conviction Friday for killing her over her desire to live a Westernized lifestyle and become an attorney, a court spokeswoman said Friday.

Chester Crown Court Judge Roderick Evans sentenced Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed to life in prison. He said the couple, who were originally from Pakistan, must be imprisoned for at least 25 years before being eligible for parole.

The sentence came hours after the court found them guilty of murder in the death of Shafilea Ahmed. The girl's dismembered body was found on a riverbank in February 2004, months after she disappeared in 2003.

The death was the final act in a long-running effort by the couple to get their daughter to conform to their beliefs, Detective Superintendent Geraint Jones told reporters.

"When this failed, they murdered her, a vile and disgraceful act," he said.

In sentencing the couple, Evans said they had used "intimidation, bullying and ... physical violence" in an effort to force her to adopt ways they viewed as more culturally appropriate.

"Your problem was that, in what you referred to as your 'community,' Shafilea's conduct was bringing shame upon you and your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than your love of your child," Evans told the couple, according to a transcript provided by court officials. "In order to rid yourselves of that problem, you killed Shafilea by suffocating her in the presence of your other four children."

Melissa Powner, a friend of the slain girl, told reporters the conviction "brought our friend the justice she deserves."

Mom in 'honor killing' changes story

"If there is one thing that we pray will come from this, it is that her beautiful face and tragic story will inspire others to seek help and make them realize that this kind of vile treatment, no matter what culture or background they are from, is not acceptable and there is a way out," Powner said in a statement to reporters.

The conviction and sentencing came just days after the girl's mother changed her long-standing denials and testified Monday that she had seen her husband attack their daughter on the night Shafilea died. Iftikhar Ahmed has denied killing his daughter.

Read more: Father denies killing daughter in UK 'honor murder' case

On Monday, Farzana Ahmed testified that she had tried to intervene to protect the girl, but her husband pushed her away and punched her, according to CNN affiliate ITV. She said she was "extremely scared" when 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 said, she asked where her 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.

Farzana Ahmed testified Monday that only one of their children, Mevish, was present when she saw her husband attacking Shafilea.

Another of the couple's children, Alesha, testified last month that she saw her parents kill her sister.

Alesha said her parents were angry that Shafilea was wearing a short-sleeved, V-neck top, and no sweater, on the night she was killed.

"Just end it here," Farzana said to Iftikhar, according to their daughter.

They pushed Shafilea onto a sofa and suffocated the struggling girl, Alesha testified.

Prosecutor Andrew Edis called it "an act of suffocation by both parents acting together."

Police will review evidence that came out during trial and could decide to seek additional charges, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Ankers said.

"It's clear that there are a lot of things in play here," he said.

Prosecutor Helen Morris used the verdict as an opportunity to urge others who may be suffering or fearful of similar violence and abuse to come forward and "put your faith in the criminal justice system."

So-called honor killings, in which members of a family kill relatives because of behavior that they say shames the family, claim about 5,000 lives a year around the world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

In England, the Crown Prosecution Service handled 234 crimes involving alleged "honor violence" in 2011. About half resulted in convictions.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

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