27 Aug 2008

Man convicted over Shia flogging

BBC News - August 27, 2008

A devout Shia Muslim has been convicted of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony, in an unprecedented case.

The jury at Manchester Crown Court found 44-year-old Syed Mustafa Zaidi guilty of two counts of child cruelty.

The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer whip, with five curved blades.

Zaidi, of Station Road, Eccles, Salford, also flogged himself during the ceremony in January.

The court heard the boys admit that they had wanted to beat themselves, but not under duress, and not with the curved blade whip.

The teenagers said that they had flogged themselves with a smaller whip from the age of six in Pakistan.

The Ashura ceremony takes place during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the death of Husayn, a central figure in the Shia faith.

Zaidi admitted he had asked the boys if they wanted to beat themselves and allowed them to use the bladed whip.

He denied his actions were wrong, saying: "This is a part of our religion."

The 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said Zaidi told them both: "Start doing it, start doing it."

The child told the court: "We said 'we don't want to do it'."

He said he saw Zaidi flogging himself before washing blood from the whip and handing it to the 15-year-old boy.

'Emotional time'

He said Zaidi was "pulling him and pushing him", telling him to "keep doing it" and telling people "this is a sad moment and look he's not doing it".

The boy said Zaidi continued to pressure the older teenager to whip himself.

He said the 15-year-old boy "swung it once or twice and said 'I don't want to do it anymore'."

Zaidi told the court: "It was an emotional time and the children were happy, they asked for it. No one forced anyone.

"If I'd known this would be the result of breaking the law I would never have done it."

The boys both received multiple lacerations to their backs, mainly superficial, with several deeper cuts.

Supt Nadeem Butt, of Greater Manchester Police, said: "This man not only abused the vulnerability of these children but also went against the wishes of his own community, as well as knowingly breaking the law.

"The sensitivities this case raises - both legal and cultural - are significant."

Carol Jackson, of the Greater Manchester Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the prosecution "was not an attack upon the practices or ceremonies of Shia Muslims".

"Indeed, the prosecution relied as part of its evidence upon the president of the local Shia community centre," Ms Jackson said.

"We are satisfied that, given the age of the children involved, the coercion employed by Syed Mustafa Zaidi, who did not accept that he was wrong, and the possibility of such an incident occurring again, the decision to prosecute by the Crown Prosecution Service was the correct one.

"This is a very unusual case and the first of its kind to be prosecuted by the CPS in England and Wales."

Zaidi will be sentenced on 24 September.

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