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Pakistani-American sentenced to death for beheading girlfriend

A Pakistan court sentenced the scion of a wealthy industrialist family to death Thursday, for raping and beheading his girlfriend in a murder that sparked an outcry over the brutalising of women in the deeply patriarchal nation.

Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, 30, attacked Noor Mukadam at his Islamabad home in July last year after she refused his marriage proposal — torturing her with a knuckleduster and using a “sharp-edged weapon” to behead her.

Mukadam, the 27-year-old daughter of a former ambassador, had made repeated attempts to escape the sprawling mansion but was blocked by two members of staff.

“The main accused has been awarded the death sentence,” said judge Atta Rabbani at the Islamabad district court.

Jaffer’s parents, Zakir Jaffer and Asmat Adamjee, were found not guilty of attempting to cover up the crime.

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The two staff members were sentenced to 10 years in prison for abetting murder.

“I am happy that justice has been served,” said Shuakat Mukadam, Noor’s father, while pledging to challenge the acquittal of Jaffer’s parents.

The case prompted an explosive reaction from women’s rights campaigners reckoning with the pervasion of violence against women.

The shocking nature of the murder, involving a couple from the privileged elite of Pakistani society, led to pressure for the trial to conclude swiftly in a country where the justice system is notoriously sluggish and cases typically drag on for years.

According to the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, a group providing legal assistance to vulnerable women, the conviction rate for cases of violence against women is lower than three percent.

Victims of sexual and domestic abuse are often too afraid to speak out, and criminal complaints are frequently not investigated seriously.

Jaffer, who will be able to challenge Thursday’s verdict, was thrown out of court several times during the trial for his behaviour.

He was frequently carried into proceedings by stretcher or wheelchair, and his lawyers argued he should be found not “mentally sound” — a manoeuvre prosecutors said was designed to suspend the trial.

At one hearing he claimed someone else had killed Mukadam during a “drug party” at his house.

When questioning Mukadam’s father — a former ambassador to South Korea and Kazakhstan — Jaffer’s lawyer implied she was killed by her own family for conducting a relationship outside of marriage.

Prosecutions for violence and sexual assault frequently see the female victim’s personal history picked over according to Pakistan’s patriarchal mores — another reason why justice is rare for women. AFP