FREE ZOORA SHAH!
'This is about a life destroyed, a family
Posted Saturday 4 December 1999
"Alert for Action" "Alert for Action" "Alert
Mobilisation for Zoora Shah
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) are calling for a demonstration outside the:
50 Queen Anne's Gate
London SW1H 9AT
Wednesday 16 December 1999
from 12.30 p.m. - 2 p.m..
We urgently need your support at this time as we prepare to make representations
to the Home Secretary to reduce Zoora Shah's excessive tariff of 20 years. She is
in prison for killing a man who had financially, sexually and physically abused her
for 12 years
SBS will be presenting a petition of approximately 5,000 signatures to Jack Straw
urging him to reduce Zoora Shah's excessive 20 year tariff resulting in her immediate
release. Zoora Shah is currently in her eighth year of imprisonment and is desperate
to be reunited with her children.
We hope to have the presence of the Bradford MPs who are currently supporting her
case as well as a number of celebrities.
We promise to make the demonstration loud, irreverent and exciting but can only do
it with your help.
Please attend, tell your friends, family, everyone and help mobilise to make this
As we move into the millennium lets show activism is not dead!
That Zoora and her children have suffered enough.
Zoora Shah needs your support:
Contact SBS for further information:
"Alert for Action" "Alert for Action" "Alert for Action"
Background material on the campaign
Southall Black Sisters
52 Norwood Road
Middlesex UB2 4DW.
Posted March 1998
Update Update Update Update Update Update Update
The Court of Appeal dismisses Zoora Shah's case
On 30th April 1998, Zoora Shah lost her appeal to overturn her conviction
for the murder and
attempted murder of Mohammed Azam on the grounds of diminished
Zoora's testimony - given for the first time - was dismissed as being 'not
capable of belief', mainly because the Court decided that she was still lying
just because she had originally lied to the police. In effect, she is now serving
a life sentence for lying rather than for her culpability for murder.
The Court ignored substantial independent evidence from her GPs, hospitals
and lay witnesses showing that she was depressed and in a state of severe
anxiety throughout her relationship with Azam and at the time of the killing.
The Court rejected the evidence of a number of psychiatrists who had
concluded that Zoora had been depressed over a number of years and was
suffering from diminished responsibility at the material time. They rejected
the testimony of an expert in transcultural psychiatry, who explained that
Zoora's inability to tell the truth at her original trial stemmed from her fear
of shame and dishonour, and from other cultural constraints. In seeking to
justify such wholesale rejection of Zoora's case, the Court hinted that all the
psychiatrists who concluded that she was suffering from diminished
responsibility had simply been duped by her clever manipulations!
A question of civil liberties: the right to a fair trial?
The Court of Appeal's judgement has profound implications for civil
liberties. The Court denied Zoora the right to put forward her defence - a
defence not available to her at trial because she feared for the future well
being of her daughters, and because she did not understand the nature of
her own depression. The judgement has far reaching consequences for all
vulnerable people who are unable to tell their story at the first instance
because of mental illness, trauma, or fear of reprisals. It suggests that if you
do not put forward one of the defences to murder at trial, you can never
raise such a defence again unless there are exceptional circumstances. There
is no indication as to what constitutes 'exceptional circumstances', but it
seems to restrict the term to the narrow condition of severe mental illness.
In seeking to develop a 'one trial' principle, the Court denied Zoora the right
to any trial, let alone a fair trial, and usurped the function of the jury, since
no jury has been allowed to hear the evidence first presented at her appeal:
her own testimony and contemporaneous medical records.
Racism and sexism
The judicial reasoning of the Court of Appeal was deeply flawed in this case
and lacking any compassion. The judgement is littered with ill-conceived
and prejudicial misconceptions about women's experiences and responses
to violence or abuse and the cultural contexts in which this is experienced. It
rides on sweeping assumptions about the codes of shame and dishonour -
key constraining mechanisms which bind many Asian women into silence
and submission - bordering on racist stereoptypes. No attempt is made to
recognise how these complex notions affect all Asian women, particularly
those who are 'discarded' by their husbands and communities, and forced to
live on the margins of their community through no fault of their own. The
Court suggested that Zoora had 'no honour left to salvage' because she had
been involved in sexual relationships, ignoring the fact that it was her status
as a divorced, isolated and poverty stricken Asian woman which made her
vulnerable to sexual and financial exploitation by a series of predatory men.
In essence, the Court - and therefore the criminal justice system - has
discriminated against Zoora because she does not fit the category of the
'fragrant housewife' and is therefore deemed to be undeserving of justice.
The case of Shahir Hussain
The Courts have been rather more willing to accept cultural and religious
factors when used by Asian men to excuse the killings of wives and
daughters, on the basis that 'their' wives/daughter's behaviour trangresses
cultural norms, even when such men hold the balance of power in the
family and community.
Witness the recent case of Shahir Hussain - an Asian man from Bradford -
whose murder conviction for deliberately mowing down his sister-in-law was
quashed by the Court of Appeal. Subsequently, at his re-trial on 27th July
1998, a plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation was
accepted by the prosecution. He argued at his re-trial that his sister-in-law
had brought shame on the family by having an affair outside of marriage,
that his family had been distressed by her behaviour, and that his religion
and culture meant that any sentence in custody would be harsh. Compare
the sentence of six and a half years which he received - making him eligible
for parole next year - to the tariff of 20 years imposed upon Zoora Shah!
Miscarriage of justice
Ultimately, the criminal justice system in this country will have no option
but to address the predicament of women in Zoora's position and the
difficulties they face in obtaining justice. Defences such as diminished
responsibility and provocation have to be as accessible to such women as
they are consistently in favour of men if the suspicion of gender
discrimination is to be dispelled. The bottom line is that Zoora, and women
like her, should not be punished twice - first by their oppressors and then by
Zoora Shah urgently needs your help to end the injustice she has faced at
the hands of her family, the community and now the law :
SBS is currently working with Zoora's lawyers to explore avenues to secure
justice for Zoora Shah, including:
representations to the Home Secretary on the matter of her tariff - 20 years -
which is excessive by all accounts in the light of her background.
fresh evidence to bring her case back to the Court of Appeal.
submissions to the European Court of Human Rights.
You can help in the following ways
Make a donation. The legal and campaigning work, currently undertaken
without any funds, urgently requires contributions. Some of the campaign
funds are also used to enable Zoora Shah's children to visit her in prison on
a regular basis.
Write to the Home Secretary urging him to reduce her tariff and secure her
release. (See model letter enclosed - please send a copy to SBS, and please
use your letterhead if you are writing on behalf of your organisation.)
Sign the petition which we hope to present to the Home Secretary in
November with her legal representations on her tariff (Please return all
petitions to SBS by the end of November.)
Affiliate to the campaign to free Zoora.
Raise the issue with your MP, pass resolutions of support in your groups or
organisations, and encourage others to support the campaign.
Aberystwyth Women's Aid
_Ajani Centre for Women and Girls,
_Asian Women's Monitoring Group,
_Asian Women's Resource Centre
_ASHIANA - Asian Women's
_ASHIANA Project, London
_ASSRA Project - Refuge, Brighouse
_Bazm-E-Urdu - Bradford Literature
_Birmingham Tribunal Unit
_Bradford Racial Equality Council
_Brent Asian Women's Refuge
_Calderdale Women's Aid, Halifax
_Daniel & Harris, Solicitors
_Fire Brigades Union
_Firth Part Advice Centre
_Glasgow Working Group on
Women, Religion and Violence
_Hackney Women's Aid
_Harrow Women's Centre
_Independent Immigration Support
_Indian Workers Association,
_Irish Women's Centre
_Jewish Women's Aid
_Justice for Women, London
_Justice for Women, Manchester
_Justice for Women,West Yorkshire
_Keighley Domestic Violence Forum
_Keighley Women's Aid
_Kirklees Asian and Black Women's
_Kirklees Rape Crisis and Black
_Lancashire Council of Mosques
_Leeds Women's Aid
_Manningham Housing Association,
_Muslim Welfare Health Centre
_National Association of Probation
_Newham Asian Women's Project
_Newham Monitoring Project
_Northern Complainant Aid Fund,
_Oxford City Council - Women's
_Saheli Refuge, Manchester
_Sheffield Domestic Violence Forum
_Shipley Women's Aid, Bradford
_Tower Hamlets Domestic Violence
_University of Essex
_Women Against Fundamentalism,
_Women and Health
_Women in Scotland and Europe
_Women's Support Project, Glasgow
Diane Abbott, MP
Rahim Kaur Binjie
Anne Cryer MP, Keighley
Dr. Susan Edwards
Mahmoud El Kurdi, Imam
Hailey V. North
Terence Rooney MP, Bradford North
Marsha Singh MP, Bradford West
Gerry Sutcliffe MP, Bradford South
The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Queen Anne's Gate
Fax: 0171 273 3965
Dear Jack Straw
Re: The case of Zoora Shah
I/We are writing to voice our grave concern about the controversial Court of
Appeal judgement of 30 April 1998 which upheld Zoora Shah's conviction
for the murder of Mohammed Azam, and the decision of your predecessor
to impose a tariff of 20 years. We request that you look into this case as a
matter of utmost urgency for the purposes of reviewing her excessive tariff
of twenty years and indeed her continuing imprisonment.
l/We understand that Zoora Shah was forced into a life of dependency by
Mohammed Azam who befriended her when she was deserted by her
husband and let's in a destitute state Although Zoora made the mortgage
repayments on the house in which she and her children lived, Azam used
the fact that it was technically in his name to trap her in a sexually and
financially exploitative and, at times, violent relationship. Azam was
subsequently convicted for ten years for dealing in heroin.
After 12 years of degradation, Zoora killed him in a moment of utter
desperation. Zoora was tried and convicted at Leeds Crown Court in
December 1993. With the help of Southall Black Sisters and a new legal team
Zoora Shah appealed against her conviction by presenting new evidence -
her entire medical history and her own testimony which had never been
On the basis of the new evidence, some psychiatrists at the Court of Appeal
concluded that Zoora was suffering from depression, whilst others went
further in concluding that she was suffering from diminished responsibility
when she committed the offences.
The Court of Appeal judgement has displayed a deep ignorance of women's
responses to domestic/sexual violence and racist indifference to a number
of significant cultural constraints. The judgement also suggests that if you
do not put forward one of the defences to murder at trial, you cannot do so
later unless there are exceptional circumstances which appear to be defined
narrowly as severe mental illness. This has profound civil liberties
implications for a wide category of vulnerable people who may not be able to
tell their full story at trial, amounting to the denial of their right to a fair
We believe that the Appeal court usurped the function of a jury by
dismissing her testimony as being 'not capable of belief'. The recent, public
declaration by the jury foreman from Zoora's original trial that the evidence
presented at appeal casts doubt on their original verdict vindicates that
view. (The Guardian, 30 September 1998)
Defences such as diminished responsibility and provocation have to be as
accessible to such women as they are to men if the suspicion of gender
discrimination is to be dispelled.
Zoora Shah's case highlights the difficulties faced by Asian women in
speaking out about the sexual abuse and domestic violence that they have
suffered. They have little or no idea as to how to access the 'appropriate'
support services, often speak no English, are constrained by notions of
shame and honour and do not have the support of their families. It was only
after Zoora Shah was given support and counselling by Southall Black Sisters
that she eventually gave what appears to be a full and frank account of her
We understand that significant sections of the Muslim religious leadership,
such as the Lancashire Council of Mosques and the Muslim Parliament are
now supporting her case, although it was the lack of support from the
Bradford religious establishment and community that compounded the
isolation faced by Zoora in the first place.
In my/our view, Zoora Shah's case represents a gross miscarriage of justice.
It appears that she knew no life other than one of grinding poverty and
relentless sexual violence. Zoora Shah was a loving and committed mother.
She had no previous convictions. She looked after many disabled children
whose families have stated that she was a hard working and irreplaceable
carer. This is not a dangerous killer who poses a threat or danger to the
public. Zoora's experiences deserves understanding and compassion.
The Court's decision punishes not only Zoora but also her children whose
lives have been devastated by her continuing imprisonment. They have had
to cut short their education in order to financially maintain themselves.
Zoora Shah's eldest daughter has in effect been denied her youth as she has
had to take on the role of being both mother and father to the youngest two
In my/our view there are no valid arguments for Zoora's continuing
incarceration. It does not serve the public interest to keep her in jail. She
and her children have been punished twice over once by their community
and now by the law. I/We demand that you address the wrong perpetrated
by the legal system on Zoora Shah.
I/We look forward to your response.
I/We wish to affiliate to the
Free Zoora Shah Campaign.
I/We wish to make donations of
Free Zoora Shah Campaign
c/o SOUTHALL BLACK SISTERS
52 Norwood Road, Southall
Middx UB2 4DW
Tel: 0181 571 9595
Fax: 0181 574 6781
FREE ZOORA SHAH!
Zoora Shah is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Mohammed
Azam - a man from the criminal underworld of Bradford who sexually and
economically exploited her over a period of 12 years.
Zoora, a non-literate Muslim woman from rural Mirpur in Pakistan, came to
Bradford in the early seventies following an arranged marriage. She was
beaten by her husband and his family and forced to undergo several
abortions in order to avoid the birth of girls. She lost one baby as a result of
her husband's violence and another through ill-health. Abandoned by her
husband and thrown out by his family, Zoora found herself with her three
young children, homeless and destitute, and unable to speak any English.
Tired of moving from one squalid room to another, she was befriended by
Azam, a married man with children, who helped her buy her own house in
his name as she was unable to obtain a mortgage. She paid the deposit and
made the mortgage repayments with benefits, earnings from her factory
work and savings. But the help was at a price - Azam demanded sexual
favours in return. Their relationship quickly turned into a sexually abusive
one. He forced her to have sex as and when he wanted to - in the cemetery
where her children were buried, in the back of cars in the presence of the
driver, at home while her children and relatives were in the next room, while
she was recovering from various operations and illnesses, often two or three
times a day.
Azam would become violent when Zoora refused to do his bidding. He
possessed a number of firearms and kept a knife in his car. He used the
technicality of the house being in his name to control her behaviour. At first
Zoora was unaware that Azam was a drug dealer. On one occasion, when
Zoora returned from Pakistan without carrying the drugs - heroin - that
Azam had demanded, he took her to the cemetery, grabbed her hair, hit her
and then forced her to have sex. When Azam was convicted of dealing in
heroin and sent to prison for ten years, he tried to pimp Zoora to male
inmates on the point of release. One of the men that he sent to her was his
brother in law. Zoora was constantly being harassed for sex by men -
sometimes gave into these demands because Azam was threatening to evict
her and sometimes she reported them to the police without much success.
Her house had become a prison for her - she could not free herself from
Azam's hold over her.
In her desperation, Zoora turned to community elders for help but they
refused. On one occasion, she went to see Azam's brother - Sher Azam - who
was a prominent leader and head of Brdford Council of Mosques but he said
he could do nothing.
World Out of Control
Zoora then turned to the only people around her - men who belonged to or
had connections with the criminal underworld in Bradford. One such man
was an Asian taxidriver who forced her to have sex with him, threatening to
tell her family that she was a prostitute' if she refused. In Zoora's eyes,
however, he was less abusive and even gave her money so she became very
dependent on him for advice. Instead of advising her to legitimise her
position in court, he encouraged her to forge Azam's signature to transfer
the house into her name.
In a further misguided attempt at escape, she allowed herself to be trapped
into agreeing to beating and then killing Azam by a man who turned out to
be a friend of the Azam brothers and had taped their agreement to kill' Azam
with Azam's prior knowledge. Azam reported this to the police but neither
he nor the police took the matter seriously enough. Azam did not end the
relationship, instead he punished Zoora by tightening his grip on her. His
thugs broke into her house, broke the windows and damaged the furniture
while her son and uncle were asleep, although Zoora herself was in Pakistan,
as a warning shot.
Driven to despair, Zoora bought arsenic in Pakistan which, in small doses,
makes men sexually impotent. She used it on Azam in February 1992 and got
a month's relief from his sexual demands.
Throughout her married life and relationship with Azam, Zoora suffered
from depression and illness. She had so many abortions that she cannot
remember them all and was continuously on anti-depressants and pain
killers. Zoora attempted suicide on a number of occasions but did not see
them through because of her children.
The Last Straw
In the last phase of her relationship with Azam, Zoora felt less and less in
control of any aspect of her life - in particular her sexuality. She faced
relentless demands for sex by Azam and the other men. Azam humiliated
Zoora by calling her and her daughter common prostitutes' in front of his
wife. The turning point in their relationship came when Zoora suspected
that Azam had sexual designs on his daughters. She feared for her eldest
daughter who had been persuaded into entering a business relationship'
with him. Zoora went to considerable effort to protect her daughters. She
sent her eldest daughter to Pakistan and even arranged her marriage. She
was deeply ashamed and sick of the life she led, "I was used as a mattress by
all the men in the community."
In April 1992, Zoora finally snapped when Azam began showing a sexual
interest in her youngest daughter who was twelve at the time. She give Azam
a larger dose of arsenic not caring whether he lived or died. The dose proved
fatal and Azam died the same day in hospital.
Zoora was charged with a number of offences: Murder, attempted murder,
solicitation to murder and forgery. Zoora did not give evidence at her trial.
She was too ashamed to reveal the painful details about her sexual history.
She was petrified of the impact of the revelations on her daughters and their
future prospects of marriage. Zoora preferred to plead not guilty to the
charges. She was found guilty on all counts and convicted for life for murder
and given concurrent sentences for the other offences.
Zoora has already spent 5 years in prison of a life sentence which carries a
tariff of twenty years..
Although the issue has been very much in the public eye because of a
number of high profile cases of battered women like Kiranjit Ahluwalia and
the Zero Tolerance campaign, legal definintions of domestic violence
continue to restrict its meaning to physical violence in marriage. The
experiences of many women do not fit this narrow definition. Zoora was
turned into a sexual slave by the economic hold that Azam had over her,
despite the fact that they were not living together. Our work and that of
other women's groups show that domestic violence encompasses a range of
abusive behaviour by husbands, partners, family members and others with
whom women have long standing relationships.
There are few avenues of escape open to women who have sustained
long-term abuse, even more so if they happen to belong to a minority. Zoora
was too ashamed to tell her GP about the reality of her life. The police failed
to protect her. Her entire world was the Bradford community. She could not
conceive of life anywhere else. Afraid of the unknown and afraid of racism,
she preferred to live in Bradford even if it meant as an outcaste.
Zoora belongs to the Mirpuri community - largely known for its ultra
conservative values, especially in relation to women. Azam came from the
Pathan community - sections of which are even more conservative and
patriarchal in their outlook. Azam's brother is a well-known and powerful
community/religious leader, who shot to fame as the instigator of the
anti-Salman Rushdie campaign in this country. Together, the various
communities, closed in behind the respectability' of Azam's connections to
outcaste Zoora, the destitute, easily portrayed as the evil' woman. The men
that Zoora met were all part of this shady world of a tightly knit community
in which people were linked by crime and kinship. Azam often told her that
there was nowhere that she could run to because he had friends'
In the last century, women in the West resorted to the use of poison to
escape abusive relationships. Many were sentenced to hanging or life
imprisonment since the since the stifling social mores of the time could not
show an understanding of their experiences. In the USA, female slaves often
resorted to the use of poison to escape rape and sexual abuse, amongst other
acts, by their white masters.
The use of poison by Zoora was not the act of a cunning' and evil' woman
driven by greed. It was the desperate act of a woman unable to take control
of her sexuality and life. The Bradford community is perhaps even more
oppressive for Asian women than it was for women living in the nineteenth
century. Many Asian women from northern England have been killed, in
recent times, for daring to break with the codes of their religion and culture.
Women in the legal system
The legal system is shot through with male assumptions about domestic
violence and women's responses to such abuse. The early nineties saw a
decade of intense battles within the criminal justice system to correct male
bias, particularly within the defences of provocation and self-defence - all
contructed around male norms of behaviour'. Whilst hard campaigning has
led to some progress, the law continues to refuse to confront its own
rejudices thus denying them equal access to justice.
In sharp contrast, men continue to elicit sympathy from the legal system,
even if their killings are based on dubious excuses of nagging' and adultery'.
On recent example is the case of David Swinburne who received a 200 hours
community sentence for killing his wife. The judge commented that his
imprisonment served no useful public interest.
The legal system must be accountable to the range of women's experiences
of domestic violence by reflecting the complex realities of women's lives.
The circumstances and perceptions of women like Zoora who are niether
mad' nor bad' must be understood. Her history of physical and sexual
degradation cries out for recognition and understanding. It demands a new
legal thinking and the courage to end the injustice that she faced at the
hands of her family and community, and now at the hands of the law.
A radical re-thinking of the existing defences to murder and the abolition of
the mandatory life sentence is necessary. It is an anachronism that in the
late twentieth century, the English legal system cannot meet the challenge of
distinguishing between those who kill out of self-interest and power from
those who do so out of despair and rage borne out of the impoversihed and
oppressive conditions of their lives.
Zoora Shah has suffered enough. She has already been in prison for five
years. She is traumatised and haunted by her past. She must be immediately
released and re-united with her children so that they can piece together
their lives as a family.
The campaign demands:
* Freedom for Zoora
* Recognition by the legal system of the full range of women's experiences of
physical, sexual and mental abuse within the notion of domestic violence
* Reform of the existing defences to murder
* Abolition of the mandatory life sentence
* Better resources and services for women who face domestic violence
especially for those in minority communities
Zoora's appeal is due to be heard on 31 March, 1,2, 3 April 1998 at
Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London
There will be demonstrations outside the court for the duration of
Your presence in the public gallery and outside the court is
extremely important to Zoora. PLEASE ATTEND!
Please sponsor the campaign and/or make donations to the
"Free Zoora ShahCampaign"
c/o Southall Black Sisters
52 Norwood Road, Southall
If you need more information ring, Southall Black Sisters
Tel. 0181 571 9595 Fax: 0181 574 6781