Pakistan police say Italian woman was ‘strangled to death’

Pakistani police on Wednesday said an Italian woman who died under suspicious circumstances last month was strangled to death, in a case that made headlines in Italy over claims she was murdered in a so-called honour killing.

Pakistan police say Italian woman was 'strangled to death'
People in Pakistan protest against so-called honour killings in Islamabad, 2014. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP

Police in the eastern city of Gujrat launched an investigation into the death of Sana Cheema – a Brescia resident of Pakistani origin and believed to have been in her mid-twenties – after allegations she had been murdered by relatives spread online.

Her body was later exhumed and an autopsy performed, leading to the discovery she had been brutally assaulted.

“It has now been confirmed that she was strangled to death. And according to the report, her neck was also broken,” Irfan Sulehri, a senior police officer in Gujrat told AFP. A second police officer from Gujrat, Waqar Gujjar, confirmed the findings of the forensics report. 

“The accused persons are already in police custody,” Sulehri added.

Cheema's father, brother and uncle were taken into custody for questioning after the investigation was launched.


According to family members, Cheema died in early April after succumbing to an unspecified illness.

Police said Cheema's father Ghulam Mustafa brought her back to Pakistan to get married.

According to the woman's family, this led to a confrontation with a nearby family who spurned the offer of a match. Because of the rejection Cheema refused to eat, fell ill and died, relatives told police.

However, reports in Italian newspapers alleged Cheema was murdered because she wanted to marry a man in Italy against her family's wishes.

Hundreds of women in Pakistan are killed by their relatives each year after allegedly bringing shame on their families in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

Under previous legislation the culprits – usually men – could escape punishment if pardoned by members of their own family. A new law removes the power to forgive culprits in such cases but critics contend some loopholes still exist. 

READ ALSO: At least 114 women were murdered in Italy last year

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP


Italy records sharp rise in femicides over the past year

Murders of women in Italy increased by nearly 16 percent over the past year, with the vast majority committed by a partner or ex-partner.

Italy records sharp rise in femicides over the past year

Data from Italy’s interior ministry on Monday showed there were 125 femicides between 1 August 2021 and 31 July 2022, compared with 108 during the same period in the previous year.

Of that number, the vast majority of murders — 108 — were committed within the family sphere or an emotional context, while 68 murders, or 63 percent of the total, were committed by the victim’s partner or ex-partner, data showed.

There were a total of 319 murders in Italy in the period.

The numbers show that, on average, a woman is killed every three days in Italy.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: ‘Violence against women conditions every aspect of our lives’

According to a November report by the European Institute for Gender Equality, Italy came in ninth out of 15 EU member states for the number of murders of women by intimate partners, based on 2018 data.

It came in tenth when looking at homicide committed by family members and relatives.

Womens’ rights campaigners say attitudes must change in Italy, where cases of violent crimes committed against women by their partners or ex-partners are often portrayed in the media as tragic stories of love gone sour, with the killers described as “jealous”.

READ ALSO: Almost half of Italian women report suffering sexual harassment

Almost 3.5 million women in Italy have been victims of stalking, according to data from national statistics agency Istat – but only 22 percent of those report the act or seek help.

Around one in three Italian women suffer abuse at some point in their life.

Femicide commonly refers to the killing of a girl or woman by a partner or family member.