Afghan men known to curse, final defence witness says

Jurors at the Shafia murder trial heard the case’s 58th and final witness Wednesday morning (January 18) and then were told by the judge that the fate of the three accused will be in their hands in a week. The last witness, the eighth called by the defence, was a social anthropologist who testified as an expert on Afghan culture and the Dari language. He was on the witness stand for roughly an hour.

“Jury, that’s all the evidence that’s going to be called in this trial,” Mr. Justice Robert Maranger said. “What we’re going to do now is, the counsel and I have some work to do before they can give their closing arguments to you and I give you my final jury charge.”

Maranger said the lawyers will make their closing submissions Monday and Tuesday – defence lawyers will speak first – and the judge will address them Wednesday.

“The case will be in your hands Wednesday, January 25,” Maranger said.

Mohammad Shafia, 58 (inset above), his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yayha, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing three Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahara, 17, and Geeti, 13. The girls were found June 30, 2009, inside a car submerged at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston.

Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was in the car. She was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan before the family moved to Canada in 2007 and settled in Montreal.

Prosecutors allege the killings deaths were a planned honour killing, staged to look like a car crash after Zainab allegedly took the car without permission.

Prosecutors claim that Shafia planned the murders to cleanse the shame he felt from the conduct of his daughters, who were wearing revealing clothes and secretly dating. Zainab also had a failed marriage to a young man who was not approved by the family. The trial also heard that Rona Mohammad wanted a divorce from Shafia and was supportive of the daughters who were dating.

Jurors heard secret police recordings made after the deaths in which Shafia curses his dead children, calling them “whores,” “prostitutes,” and “filthy rotten children” who were “treacherous” and who betrayed him. In one wiretap he says: “May the devil shit on their graves.”

Wednesday’s final witness, Nabi Misdaq, said he listened to some of the original Dari conversations in the wiretaps and read all of the translations. He said Afghan men are known to routinely use foul curses, particularly within their families.

“Expletives in Dari are very common,” he testified, in answer to questions by defence lawyer David Crowe, who represents Yahya.

“When a man is very angry or he’s faced with something which, you know, he thinks is nothing to do with him, it’s not his fault … he will use expletives,” he said.

Shafia testified that his curses on the wiretaps flowed from anger that his children had put the family in this terrible situation – having to cope with the deaths – and with the behaviour of his daughters. He insisted he did not see pictures of the two oldest girls in revealing clothes that particularly enraged him until after their deaths.

Misdaq was asked if there is a North American equivalent to Shafia’s devil-graves slur.

“I think the nearest will be to say, ‘To hell with them,’ or, ‘To hell with it,’ something like that” Misdaq testified.

He said that when an Afghan man utters a string of profanities, for example, calling a family member a whore, it doesn’t mean he literally believes she is selling sex.

Misdaq said men are very important in Afghan society. They are considered the primary breadwinners and the person who must be consulted on important family decisions.

During questioning by prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis, Misdaq acknowledged that an Afghan man uttering profane slurs might simply be using the foul language to better express his anger and disappointment.

Misdaq, who lives in the United States and was educated in England, had never been qualified before as an expert on Afghan culture and language at a criminal trial. He has provided culture and language training to soldiers in the Canadian and American military.

After his testimony was completed, the lawyers and judge began discussions related to the closing statements that will be made to jurors. Although the discussions are taking place in open court, they cannot be reported at this time.

(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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