Pakistani couple jailed in Italy for murdering daughter who refused arranged marriage

Saman Abbas’s body was found at a farmhouse in northern Italy, leading to a murder case that has shocked the country

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 20 December 2023 10:04 GMT
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Related Pakistani protesters outraged by brutal ‘honour killing’

A court in Italy has sentenced a Pakistani couple to life imprisonment for killing their 18-year-old daughter for refusing an arranged marriage.

Prosecutors said Saman Abbas was killed by her family on 1 May 2021. Her body wasn’t discovered until it was dug up at an abandoned farmhouse in northern Italy in November 2022.

The so-called “honour killing” was one of the most high-profile murder trials in the past year in Italy, which has launched a wider probe into the slaying or mistreatment of immigrant women by their families.

Her father Shabbar Abbas, who was extradited to Italy in August to face trial, and mother Nazia Shaheen, who remained in Pakistan, have been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty by a court in the northern city of Reggio Emilia on Tuesday.

Her uncle, Danish Hasnain, was handed a 14-year prison term while her two cousins were found not guilty and were ordered to be released from jail.

Her father maintained his innocence during a tearful statement to the court before the judge’s deliberations.

"This trial is not complete. I too want to know who killed my daughter," he told the court.

The girl had emigrated to a farm town, Novellara, in Italy’s northern region of Emilia-Romagna from Pakistan as a teenager. There she began dating a Pakistani man and posted a picture kissing her boyfriend on a street in the regional capital, Bologna in a social media post.

The post enraged her Muslim parents, according to prosecutors, who tried to force her to marry a cousin in Pakistan in 2020.

She began living under the protection of social services in October 2020 but returned to her parents in Novellara in April 2021 before she went missing, according to Italian media reports.

She reportedly told her boyfriend that she feared for her life, because of her refusal to marry an older man in her homeland.

CCTV footage released by the police showed her parents and her uncle walking with spades, a crowbar and a blue bag on 29 April 2021. The next day, the teenager was seen leaving the house with her parents in separate video footage.

An autopsy revealed the young woman had a broken neck bone, possibly caused by strangulation.

The term “honour killing” refers to the slaying of a woman or girl after she is perceived to have broken religious beliefs or societal norms. Human rights groups have condemned such violence against women, which can be carried out over trivial reasons like dressing in a way deemed inappropriate, refusing arranged marriages or having love affairs.

Pakistan has several laws specifically banning honour killing and has made sentencing tougher in the past two decades, including closing a loophole that previously allowed killers to go free if they were “forgiven” by the family of the victim.

Yet human rights groups say the practice remains widespread, with an estimated 800 to 1000 women killed each year in Pakistan in “honour-based” violence.

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