Witness recounts Shafia daughter’s secret relationship

Zainab ShafiaA 19-year-old Montreal woman, allegedly murdered, along with two sisters and her stepmother, by her father, mother and brother, was yanked from school and virtually imprisoned in her home, after she was caught with a boy, a murder trial has heard. “She had to stay in her room through the whole day,” the young man who dated her testified Monday, at the murder trial of Mohammad Shafia, 58, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20. The family members, natives of Afghanistan, have pleaded not guilty.

Zainab Shafia
A photo of Zainab Shafia recovered by police from a cellphone found inside the submerged car where Zainab, her sisters and stepmother were found dead in the Rideau Canal on June 30, 2009 (released trial exhibit)

The witness cannot be named under a court order that protects his identity until he has completed his testimony. He is expected to be back on the witness stand Tuesday.

They defendants are charged with killing sisters Zainab Shafia, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, who was Mohammad Shafia’s first wife. The victims were found dead inside a car discovered submerged in the Rideau Canal on June 30, 2009. Prosecutors allege it was an honour killing, orchestrated by the strict father who felt shamed because his daughters were dressing in revealing clothes and consorting with boys without permission.

The witness met Zainab in 2008 at the school they both attended. On Feb. 14, he sent her a Valentine card. Two days later, she sent him an email cautioning that her brother Hamed, who attended the same school, could not know about their relationship.

The email said: “let me explain the rules of my friendship firstly be aware of my bro than if sometimes wanna talk come in the library. and if my bro is around, act like complete stranger.”

Zainab wrote that she would call the boy from a public telephone at school.

“i don’t want to give [Hamed] the slightest idea that we r friends.”

The two began a secret relationship and he was invited to Zainab’s house when her family was away. He testified that as soon as he arrived at the house, Zainab shooed him to the basement and then the garage, telling him to hide, because her brother Hamed had suddenly arrived at home.

Hamed found him in his hiding spot and asked him to leave the house.

The witness said Zainab never returned to school. In a message, she told him that her brother ordered her to stay at home until her parents returned from an overseas trip, when they would decide what would happen to her.

“She said her dad was mad at her for what she did and that’s why they took her out of school,” he testified.

Eventually she was permitted to attend a different school, but only at night and while wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim head covering.

“It sucks,” Zainab wrote, in an email to her ex-boyfriend in December 2008.

Eventually, the frustrated young woman decided to leave her home. With the help of the young man, she fled to a woman’s shelter in April 2009, he testified. The family contacted Zainab and asked her to return home.

“She was scared to go back,” the young man testified.

After two weeks at the shelter, Zainab’s mother convinced her to return home, after promising that the family would allow her to marry the young man.

He testified that he spoke directly to Yahya and he believed that she was serious about helping Zainab.

They wed on May 18, 2009, but the union was annulled the following day. The man testified that members of the Shafia family, except the father, who was away on business, gathered at a restaurant for a party the day after the wedding. No one from the young man’s family attended the celebration. He said he had warned the Shafias that his family would not take part.

He said Yahya approached him.

“She said, ‘I can’t tell my relatives that I’m giving my daughter to a guy who has no family because that’s going to look bad on me,’ ” he testified. He said Yahya spoke to her daughter and then Zainab approached him, in tears, telling him that she could not go through with it.

“She told me, ‘I cannot do this; I cannot leave my family and ruin my family’s reputation,’ ” he testified.

A religious leader who was at the party dissolved the marriage.

The man said he and Zainab stayed in touch in the months following the failed marriage.

On June 2, four weeks before she was found dead, Zainab sent him an email, saying that she missed him.

“it was my dream to marry u n I did it once soooo nw even on day if sum thing happens to us like dead i wnt die with out my dream being full filled i love u much n thanx for loving me the same way,” she wrote.

She described their relationship as a “an amazing love story.” She signed the email, “ur wife and best friend zainab.”

(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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