Daring to make their own choice

Helen Pidd and Jon Boone at the Guardian have more details on the apparent murder of Samia Shahid.

Such crimes are often triggered by women defying centuries-old patriarchal codes and daring to make their own choice about who they marry, or how they live their lives. Shahid not only married a man of her choice, she also divorced her first husband, her cousin Shakeel, a man Kazam says she was pressured to marry in a lavish wedding in Pakistan in 2012.

The marriage had been arranged when she was young and it is believed Shahid was expected to apply for a visa for Shakeel so he could join her in the UK. “The nearer [the wedding] day came, the more she didn’t want to do it,” said a friend in Bradford.

She went through with the marriage but was so determined not to become pregnant that she asked a British friend in Pakistan to help her get the contraceptive pill – hard to come by in rural Pakistan.

Shahid eventually returned to the UK, where she sought a divorce via the Sharia courts and couriered the legal papers to Shakeel at his Pandori home. Her rejection of the marriage is said to have gravely insulted her family, who refused to recognise the divorce. They reported her missing to the police in November 2014 when she left the UK to live with her new partner, Kazam, in Dubai.

Her new husband, that is. They got married – willingly and happily on both sides! – in September 2014.

The family was never likely to approve. Kazam was an outsider; a member of the Syed clan rather than their own Choudhry clan and with no links to their ancestral village near the Mangla dam in Punjab.

They married at Leeds Town Hall, with a legally binding UK marriage certificate as well as a nikkah. Samia converted to Shia Islam.

Shahid had attempted to restore her relationship with the family on a return visit to Bradford in September 2015, the Guardian has learned. She was sufficiently worried that she asked a police chaperone to accompany her to a meeting with her own family.

It didn’t go well. Even with the officer present, the meeting became heated and one of her relatives received an official police harassment warning, West Yorkshire police said. “She was very smart, was Samia,” said a friend in Bradford. “That’s why she took the police officer with her. She thought they’d hurt her or take her passport off her or both.”

But she went to Pakistan anyway when they told her her father was dying. He wasn’t. Her stream of instant messages to Kazam suddenly stopped.

When he phoned her cousin, a man called Mobeen, Kazam said he was told Shahid – who he says was a healthy 28-year-old woman – had died of a heart attack. It was the first in a number of conflicting explanations of her death, including that she had fallen after an asthma attack. The local press carried a story claiming she had killed herself because she was depressed about not having had children, but the family have rejected this.

Aqeel Abbas, the investigating officer on the case, played down the likelihood of foul play, telling the Guardian on Sunday that there had been no signs of external physical injury on Shahid’s body. However, it emerged days later through an autopsy – and pictures of her body seen by this newspaper – that Shahid has visible bruising around her neck. A source involved in the investigation said they suspected Shahid was poisoned.

I’ve seen one of those pictures too. The bruise is very visible. It’s all across the front, and it stands out. There’s also a stream of blood at one corner of her mouth.

[MP Naz] Shah’s complaints dramatically raised the profile of a case that might otherwise have never gone further than the local Urdu language press in Jhelum district. The interior minister has demanded an in-depth investigation while the chief minister of Punjab has ordered a special committee of top provincial policemen to prepare a report into the affair within three days.

All because she divorced a man she never wanted to marry, and married a man she did want to marry.

Comments are closed.