I’m a “dead woman” if parents know of boyfriend: Sahar Shafia

Sahar ShafiaSahar Shafia (inset) told her boyfriend’s aunt that she believed her parents would kill her if they found out about her relationship with the young man from Honduras but she planned to tell them about it because she would love him “until death,” the murder trial of her parents and brother has heard. “She told me that her parents did not know about the relationship with Ricardo and the day that her parents knew about the relationship with Ricardo she would be a dead woman,” Erma Medina testified Wednesday. She said Sahar repeated the claim several times and appeared serious.

Sahar and Ricardo
Sahar Shafia and boyfriend Ricardo Sanchez in a photo believed taken two weeks before Sahar's death. The photo was recovered from her cellphone by police. The phone was found in the sunken car in which Sahar was found dead, along with her two sisters and stepmother on June 30, 2009 (released trial exhibit)

Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing 17-year-old Sahar and two of her sisters, Zainab, 19, and Geeti, 13 and Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52. The victims were found dead in a submerged car discovered in a shallow canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009.

Sahar secretly dated Angel Ricardo Ruano Sanchez, a young Montreal man, for the last four months she was alive. Sanchez testified that the young lovers talked of moving to his native country, Honduras, and marrying.

Sanchez testified that they kept the relationship secret out of fear of the reaction of her family. He believed the family would not approve of the union between the Spanish-speaking Christian and the teenaged Muslim girl whose family was from Afghanistan.

Sanchez lived with his aunt for a time and Sahar visited him there.

Medina last talked to Sahar in April 2009, she testified. She said Sahar told her she planned to tell her parents about Sanchez but she hoped to move to Honduras to marry him.

“They would get support and feel more secure in my country than in this country,” Medina testified, through a Spanish interpreter, as did Sanchez. She said Sanchez’s father and other relatives are in Honduras.

Medina was asked by prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis why Sahar would tell her parents about her boyfriend if she believed they would kill her.

“Because she loved Ricardo … and said that she would love until death,” Medina replied.

Medina acknowledged, during questioning by defence lawyer Peter Kemp, who represents Shafia, that she never learned from Sanchez or Sahar whether Sahar’s parents learned of the relationship.

Sanchez also testified that he saw unexplained bruises on Sahar’s arm and leg. He said that he did not believe her explanation that she had fallen and hurt herself.

“I said it didn’t look like a bruise from a fall,” Sanchez testified.

Sahar confided in teachers at her school in 2008 that she was being physically and emotionally abused by family members, jurors have heard previously. The complaints prompted a call to a youth protection agency.

The first agency employee to hear Sahar’s complaints testified Wednesday that she spoke, in May 2008, to a terrified and suicidal young woman who said life at home was unbearable.

“She told me that she was extremely scared because … she was not allowed to share family information with outsiders and she was afraid of the repercussions,” Evelyn Benayoun testified. At the time, Benayoun was an intake worker for Batshaw, a child protection agency for Anglophones in Montreal. She spoke to Sahar by telephone, after school officials called the agency.

“Sahar told me that she wanted to die because she was extremely sad,” Benayoun testified. “The whole home situation was unbearable for her.”

Sahar told the woman of physical abuse by her older brother Hamed, at the behest of her parents, and that she was emotionally rejected by her mother. Benayoun said Sahar told her that her mother would not speak to her and her siblings were forbidden to talk to her, as punishment for having introduced a sister to a boy.

“She said, ‘I want my mother to speak to me,’ ” Benayoun testified.

She coded the case as an emergency requiring immediate action. Jurors already have heard that a Batshaw investigator met with Sahar and concluded that the allegations were true but the file was closed and no action was taken because Sahar was not considered to be in immediate danger.

The trial is adjourned until Monday, when Crown prosecutors will call their final witness, a professor at the University of Toronto who has studied honour killings. It is not known if defence lawyers will call any evidence after the Crown completes its case.

Prosecutors allege the victims were slain in an honour killing, purportedly orchestrated by Shafia because he believed his daughters had shamed him by taking boyfriends and dressing in revealing clothing. Prosecutors claim that Shafia’s first wife was killed because she was a source of friction in the family and she could expose Shafia’s polygamy.

(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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