Man guilty of forcing boys to flog themselves

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The Independent Online

A devout Muslim was found guilty of child cruelty today in a British legal first after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony.

The jury at Manchester Crown Court found 44-year-old Syed Mustafa Zaidi guilty of two counts of child cruelty.

The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer zani, an implement containing five curved blades, during a ceremony to commemorate the death of a Shia Muslim spiritual leader.

Zaidi, of Station Road, Eccles, Salford, also flogged himself during the ceremony at a community centre in Levenshulme, Manchester, on 19 January.

The boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted they wanted to beat themselves, but not under duress and not using Zaidi's zanjeer zani.

Both boys also admitted they had flogged themselves with a smaller zanjeer zani from the age of six in Pakistan.

A 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said Zaidi told them both: "Start doing it, start doing it".

He told the jury: "We said 'we don't want to do it'."

The boy said he saw Zaidi flogging himself with the zanjeer zani before washing his blood from it and handing it to the 15-year-old boy.

He said Zaidi was "pulling him and pushing him, 'keep doing it', telling people 'this is a sad moment and look he's not doing it'.

"He goes 'I don't want to do it, I don't want to do it'.

"He kept pressuring him, make him do the knife thing, pulling him, trying to get his T-shirt off, pulling and pushing him.

"He was saying 'just do it, just do it'."

He said the 15-year-old boy "swung it once or twice and said 'I don't want to do it anymore'."

He said the older boy was then pulled away by another man.

A 20-minute film of the traditional Ashura ceremony, broadcast on satellite television, showed Zaidi flagellating himself until his back was bloody and cut.

Participants at the men-only event flogged themselves, while others chanted the name Husayn and beat their chests. Many cried openly.

The Ashura ceremony takes place during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and commemorates the death of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and a central figure in the Shia faith.

Husayn was killed at the Battle of Karbala, alongside 72 members of his family, around 1,400 years ago.

Performing the matam - self-flagellation - brings out feelings of bereavement and grief at their deaths.

Zaidi admitted he had asked the boys if they wanted to beat themselves and that he allowed them to use his zanjeer zani.

He denied his actions were wrong, saying: "This is a part of our religion."

He said the 15-year-old boy had performed a "perfect matam" and that it was not a "stitching matam" because he didn't sustain heavy cuts.

He told the jury: "It was an emotional time and the children were happy, they asked for it. No one forced anyone."

The boys both received multiple lacerations to their backs, mainly superficial, with several deeper cuts.

Zaidi, a warehouse supervisor, also said: "If I'd known this would be the result of breaking the law I would never have done it."