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CRIME

Trial begins for ‘honour killing’ of teen daughter

A 53-year-old Pakistani man known as Scheragha R goes on trial on Tuesday for the vicious murder in 2010 of his 16-year-old daughter, Swera.

Almost exactly two years have passed since Scheragha R killed his teenage daughter in their family apartment in Zurich Höngg.

At first, it was assumed that the murder was a so-called honour killing in response to the shame that the father claimed his daughter had brought upon the family.

But recent psychiatric reports suggest that this theory does not fit with the killer’s profile, and that he may instead have killed his daughter a fit of emotion. These are the questions that the court will examine on the first day of the trial.

The fact that Scheragha R deeply regrets his actions and no longer wishes to live are factors that will be advanced by the defence and which point away from the honour killing theory, online news site Blick reported.

The prosecutor, Ulrich Krättli, will nevertheless argue that this was an honour-killing, carried out consciously and deliberately, and brought about by the father’s inability to bear his daughter’s wayward and un-Islamic behaviour. He is looking for a sentence of between 10 years and life imprisonment.

The murder took place on May 10th 2010, not long after 16-year-old Swera had been picked up at a Zurich police station by her parents. She had been caught stealing cigarettes.

It was the first time the girl had seen her father for two weeks: she had run away after her father had allegedly tried to electrocute her by throwing a hairdryer into the bath, online news site 20 Minuten reported.

Once back at their apartment Swera said she wanted to leave home permanently and started to pack a bag. She then went down to the basement of the building to get a pair of shoes. While she was gone, her father allegedly retrieved an axe from the balcony and hid it in the bedroom he shared with his wife.

Once she was back in the apartment, the girl went into her parents’ bedroom to pick up some of her belongings. When she bent down to retrieve some items from the wardrobe, her father hit her with the axe on the back of the head, the prosecutor says. The man struck his daughter 19 times with the axe: 12 times with the blade and seven with the blunt end.

The teenager did not die instantly, but lay on the ground in agonizing pain for several minutes until her life finally slipped away.

After washing his hands, Scheragha R left the apartment and called his wife to say he had killed his daughter. Fifteen minutes later, he called the police, who arrested him shortly after near his apartment.

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CRIME

OPINION: Switzerland’s rape laws are not fit for purpose and reforms are long overdue

As they stand Switzerland's rape laws are more useful to perpetrators of sex assaults than to the victims, writes Clare O'Dea as she explains why new reforms are long overdue.

OPINION: Switzerland's rape laws are not fit for purpose and reforms are long overdue

It is widely accepted that Switzerland’s current rape law, last revised thirty years ago, is not fit for purpose. Partly in response to international obligations, the Swiss political system is finally addressing the problem and concrete progress is inching closer.

The failings in the current legal model include a too-narrow definition of what sexual act constitutes rape, the exclusion of male victims of rape, the requirement to prove violence or coercion, and the soft sanctions against convicted rapists.

Taken together, these weaknesses make Swiss rape legislation as it now stands a lot more useful to perpetrators of rape than it is to victims.

There were 757 rapes reported in Switzerland last year, and only 77 rapists convicted, some of whom did not receive custodial sentences. The overall number of reported sex offences in 2021 was 6,909. 

But extensive change is coming in all four problem areas, partly thanks to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. A revision of the Swiss law, compliant with the Convention, is working its way through parliament. The Council of States has just supported the reform positions of the Federal Council, and the National Council is expected to go at least as far when it takes up the debate later this year.

The definition of rape is set to be expanded to include any kind of penetration against the will of the person, not just vaginal penetration by a penis. This means more sexual acts can be prosecuted as rape. Combined with the use of the gender-neutral word ‘person’, it also means that males will be recognised as victims of rape for the first time under Swiss law.

The Council of States also voted to introduce a minimum two-year prison sentence for convicted rapists. This is important because sentences under two years are automatically suspended in Switzerland, which has meant some rapists walk away without serving any time behind bars.

It is hard to imagine the anguish of victims seeing their abusers get off so lightly, without any prison time or even being named and shamed in their community. In ordinary circumstances, the names of convicted criminals are not made public in Switzerland.

These changes, if accepted by the larger parliamentary chamber, will represent a major step forward for victim’s rights, and bring Switzerland into line with most other European countries on rape law.

The final unresolved issue is how to proceed when the use of force is no longer part of the legal definition of rape. We know it is possible to do something to someone against their will without using force. There are many reasons victims may not resist, including the phenomenon of freezing in shock.

There is a growing international movement to reconceptualise rape and other sexual offences as violations of the victim’s sexual autonomy. More and more European countries – 13 and counting – are moving away from the violence-based definition of rape to a broader definition of rape being sex without consent.

Right now in Switzerland, the camps are split into those who advocate for the explicit expression of consent – ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ – as the best legal formula to establish rape, and those who say it’s the refusal of consent that must be expressed – ‘No Means No’. The Council of States opted for No Means No.

Unfortunately, all of this may be academic in a court setting where there is no record of such statements on the part of the alleged victim either way.  The use of force, threats or psychological pressure, is already hard to prove. So what’s the point of the change?

What it will hopefully do is reinforce the message that it is imperative to listen to the person you are about to have sex with and that what they want matters. Even if you don’t care what they want at that moment, the law does.

It tells potential victims that their wishes matter, that consent is not something to be brushed aside to satisfy one person’s demands. It is good to have this spelled out in law. Remember that marital rape, for example, only entered the Swiss criminal code in 1991.

When it comes to giving consent, I don’t think it matters which model you use – say yes or say no – putting consent at the top of the agenda between sexual partners will help make a cultural difference. But a lot more needs to happen outside the legal arena to make this a safer country for women and girls in particular.

Sadly, the unreported incidence of sexual assault and rape is high. Amnesty International commissioned a survey of women in Switzerland in 2019 in which 12% of respondents said they had had non-consensual sexual intercourse. More than one in five (22%) had been subject to unwanted sexual acts in their lives. Only 8% of these victims notified the police.

Could we produce a new generation of women who feel secure enough to say ‘I don’t want this’ and a new generation of men who would listen to them and respect their wishes? We are not there yet, especially not with the ubiquity of porn culture that has become markedly more violent towards women.

There are still some hard questions to be asked about why rape happens. Why is it that a subset of men will disregard the dignity, comfort or safety of another person for their own sexual gratification? How are we as a society contributing to this sense of entitlement?

Ultimately, weeding out rape culture will achieve a lot more than the courts can, even with this better law.

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