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Shafia wife killed because she was despised by husband, second wife

Rona Amir Mohammad, long-suffering first wife of the Afghan-born killer Mohammad Shafia.

Roger Hallett

She once overheard one of the murderers refer to her as "that other one," the honour killings trial was told – as though she were a piece of unwanted baggage.

And in a sense she was.

The portrait of Rona Amir Mohammad, long-suffering first wife of the Afghan-born killer Mohammad Shafia, that emerged from the evidence presented by trial prosecutors and from her diaries, a court exhibit, was of a tolerant, liberally inclined stepmother who cared passionately about the family's children.

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"While Rona was unable to have children herself, she helped raise the Shafia children," prosecutor Laurie Lacelle told the trial in her opening address. "She loved them all."

She was drowned in her early 50s at the Kingston Mills locks along with three teen-aged Shafia sisters.

At the murder trial, Ms. Mohammad's younger sister, Diba Masoomi, who lives in France, recounted that Ms. Mohammad told her during phone calls that the other adults in the family had ostracized her.

But this had to be kept secret, she testified, because "the family honour would be in danger, and her own life would have been in danger."

The trial also heard from Virginia-based Afghan women's rights activist Fahima Vorgetts, who spoke to Ms. Mohammad many times, usually from a pay phone near the Montreal family home.

She talked about "physical abuse by her husband many times," Ms. Vorgetts testified.

"He made life a torture for me," Ms. Mohammad wrote of her husband in the diaries, which span the years 2007 and 2008.

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Prosecutors told the jury that Ms. Mohammad was killed largely because she was despised and controlled by her husband and his second wife.

"You are my servant," Tooba Mohammad Yahya once told her. Mr. Shafia, Ms. Yahya and their eldest son were convicted on Sunday on four counts of first-degree murder.

Ms. Mohammad had never been able to bear children, despite fertility treatments in India, but was evidently willing to see her husband take a second wife. When Sahar – one of the eventual murder victims – was born, the court heard, Ms. Yahya "gave" her the infant to raise as her own.

When the clan immigrated to Quebec in 2007, Ms. Mohammad was trapped in a nightmare: stranded, with no funds of her own, and speaking little English. She had entered Canada, a country where polygamy is illegal, posing as her husband's cousin, making her a threat to the wealthy Afghan family.

An immigration lawyer told the court that had her status as an unwanted first wife in a polygamous union been discovered, trouble with immigration authorities and the law would have followed.

All through the three-month trial, the main players were referred to by one name, in line with Afghan custom: Mr. Shafia was always called Shafia; his second wife was Tooba; their son was Hamed.

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The prosecutors' main narrative was that the three teenagers – sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti 13 – were drowned and a clumsy accident was staged in an attempt to cover it up. The girls, the court heard, died because they had disgraced the family name through their disobedience and interest in boyfriends. Simply put, the teens had wanted their freedom, to be normal, and craved an exit from a claustrophobic household ruled by a vicious tyrant.

And although the court heard Mr. Shafia sprinkle his talk with references to God, he had in fact not been near a mosque in years.

However, both his wives were devout.

Kingston resident Barb Jagger shared a jail cell with Ms. Yahya, and recalls a woman who prayed five times a day and was well-versed in the Koran.

Ms. Mohammad, too, was religious, beginning her diary entries with the customary Muslim invocation to Allah, but not a fundamentalist.

Father and son hatched the murder plot that would end her life in Dubai, police believe, a couple of weeks ahead of time. With them, they had pictures of some of the victims, including no less than 29 photos of Ms. Mohammad.

Here is how she summarized her situation in her unhappy diaries.

She describes her anxieties about everything in her life. She dwells extensively on money and gold, and her rivalry with her husband's second wife, who had all the money and status she needed.

And they conclude with this:

"Tooba used to say, 'Your life is in my hands.'"

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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