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Pakistani-American sentenced to death for beheading woman who refused to marry him

A Pakistani court sentenced a man from a prominent industrialist family to death on Thursday, after finding him guilty of beheading a childhood friend who had refused to marry him. The ruling will likely be appealed.

Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffar's killing of Noor Mukadam last year shocked the country and drew nationwide condemnation, with the subsequent trial widely covered in the media. The verdict was quickly hailed by civil society groups.

The prosecution had alleged that Jaffar, 30, had a long-running friendship with Mukadam, 27, the daughter of a diplomat, but she rejected his romantic advances.

Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer (C), convicted of murdering Noor Mukadam, arrives in a court before the case verdict in Islamabad on February 24, 2022. FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images

Prosecutors said Mukadam leapt from a window at Jaffar's home in an upscale area of Islamabad last July when Jaffar refused to accept her rejection. He ordered a security guard and a cook to capture her before he killed her, prosecutors said. A video that surfaced on social media at the time showed Jaffar dragging her back to his home.

Jaffar raped Mukadam before brutally murdering her, police said in reports submitted to the court during the trial. Mukadam had gone to Jaffer's house to say goodbye as he was planning to travel abroad. Jaffar has both Pakistani and American citizenship.

The court also sentenced two domestic workers to 10 years' prison time each for complicity in the killing.

Mukadam's family and friends along with human rights activists organized a movement around her death, demanding justice, holding candlelight vigils, and launching a social media campaign, #justicefornoor.

Women rights activists hold placards during a protest rally against the brutal killing of Noor Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat who was found murdered at a house in Pakistan's capital on July 20, in Islamabad on September 22, 2021. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

The trial shed light on the pervasiveness of violence against women in Pakistan, which usually affects the lower and middle classes. Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan each year in similar cases, and the numbers of those subjected to violence and sexual assaults are growing.

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

Mukadam's father, Shaukat Ali, welcomed the verdict, saying he would issue a detailed statement after fully reading the court's ruling. There was no immediate comment from Jaffar's family.

His parents, who had been charged with conspiracy and evidence tampering, were both acquitted Thursday, said Shah Kawar, lawyer for Mukadam's family.

During the trial, Jaffer's lawyer portrayed him as mentally unstable, with the defendant often seen unkempt in the courthouse and occasionally shouting at court personnel. Soon after his arrest he told the court he couldn't be put on trial in Pakistan because he was a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, however, said it has no involvement in criminal cases against its citizens overseas other than to provide information on available legal counsel, check that they are not being mistreated and offer to contact family members.

In a statement, Amnesty International welcomed the conviction, but argued against the death penalty. The statement also said the conviction "was all the more significant" because Pakistan's track record for prosecuting gender-based crimes is low.

"This conviction underscores the importance of ensuring that the criminal justice system responds effectively at all levels," the statement said.

Last year, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan came under fire after he linked how women dress for a rise in rape cases, advising women to cover up to prevent temptation.

"This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it," he said, using a term that can refer to modest dress or the segregation of the sexes.

Hundreds signed a statement circulating online calling Khan's comments "factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous" and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was "appalled" by the comments.

"Not only does this betray a baffling ignorance of where, why and how rape occurs, but it also lays the blame on rape survivors, who, as the government must know, can range from young children to victims of honor crimes," it said.

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