Relatives held over Pakistani-origin Italian woman’s ‘honour’ killing

Updated April 25, 2018

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SANA Cheema, whose sudden death was highlighted by Italian media.
SANA Cheema, whose sudden death was highlighted by Italian media.

GUJRAT: A magistrate on Tuesday ordered that the body of an Italian woman of Pakistani origin, who was allegedly murdered for ‘honour’ in the neighbourhood of Mangowal in the city of Gujrat in Punjab on April 18, be exhumed on Wednesday (today) for further investigation.

According to the victim’s family, 26-year-old Sana Cheema had died of natural causes a week ago within the jurisdiction of the Kunjah police station and was buried without an autopsy being conducted.

However, Asad Gujjar, a spokesperson for the Gujrat police, told Dawn that the district police officer had taken notice of news reports in the Italian media, which suggested that she had been murdered for honour, and a social media campaign by her close friends who demanded an investigation into her sudden death.

News of Ms Cheema’s death was reported in a local Italian newspaper, Giornale di Brescia, and members of the Pakistani community in Brescia, Italy, had held a demonstration over the weekend, demanding to know the truth about her death.

Body of 26-year-old Pakistani-origin woman to be exhumed in Gujrat today

They claimed that Ms Cheema had wanted to marry someone in Italy, against her family’s wishes. The reports further alleged that Ms Cheema’s parents had been forcing her to marry someone in the family in the days leading up to her murder.

According to Italian media, Ms Cheema had wanted to marry a man from Brescia who, like her, was a second-generation immigrant with Italian citizenship.

Mr Gujjar said that the Kunjah police visited Mangowal town, where Ms Cheema had been staying with her family, and collected some information about her death which strengthened their suspicions about the version offered by the woman’s family.

After an initial inquiry, the police lodged a murder case against Sana’s father, Ghulam Mustafa Cheema, her brother Adnan Cheema, and her uncle Mazhar Iqbal Cheema, on a complaint filed by Kunjah SHO Waqar Gujjar.

The police have taken most of the suspects into custody but they are still looking for her brother, who appears to be on the run.

The police submitted an application to a district and sessions judge who referred the matter to a magistrate. The magistrate decided the application the same day and ordered that the body be exhumed without delay. He also directed the medical superintendent of Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Teaching Hospital to appoint a doctor and staff to conduct an autopsy of the body.

Police have refused to comment on the possible cause of death, saying that would be determined by the autopsy report.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has said that it is following the case through its embassy in Islamabad, which is gathering information to define the circumstances surrounding Ms Cheema’s death.

Earlier in 2016, a British woman of Pakistani origin, Samia Shahid from Jhelum, was allegedly killed by her father and former husband for contracting a second marriage without obtaining divorce from her first husband. The case is still in trial, but her father died in jail of cardiac arrest in 2017 while her former husband is still in jail.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2018