The murder, apparently at the hands of members of their own family, of two Pakistani sisters who lived in Catalonia has shaken Spanish society and raised questions about its ability to integrate immigrants.
Arooj Abbas (24) and his sister Aneesa (21), who lived in Terrassa, near Barcelona, were both killed a day after returning to their family’s village in northern Pakistan last month after a dispute over their marriages. Pakistani police have arrested six men in connection with the deaths, including their husbands, two brothers and an uncle.
Police believe the two sisters were lured into the country under false pretences after family members discovered the pair wanted to separate from the two cousins they married years earlier who are remained in Pakistan. Arooj was shot and Aneesa was strangled, according to forensic sources quoted by the Pakistani news site Dawn.
Azra Bibi, the mother of the two victims who was present when they were killed, returned to Spain on Sunday with her youngest son, a minor who was not linked to the crime.
Her ex-husband, Ghulam Abbas, who lives in Terrassa, said: “I have two dead daughters and two sons in prison, I don’t know what to think.
Both Arooj and Aneesa moved to Spain several years ago, leaving behind their husbands and living with their father and brother Shehryar, who is among those arrested. The strict and authoritative behavior of their male parents and their determination to have relationships with other men caused them to leave the apartment several months ago, according to reports.
Forced marriages have been illegal in Spain since 2015, although police have investigated around 30 such unions since then, according to the Interior Ministry.
Whether or not the two victims’ marriages were forced is unclear. However, the case of Arooj and Aneesa Abbas appears to have prompted other girls and women in Spain facing arranged or forced unions to approach the authorities. Among them was a Bangladeshi girl who was due to marry in her home country, who turned herself in to police in Barcelona and is now in the custody of the Catalan regional government.
There are 99,000 Pakistanis living in Spain, half of them in the province of Barcelona. El País The newspaper said the double murder case showed “the increasing coexistence of Spanish society with immigrant families from countries where women’s rights do not exist or have virtually no judicial or institutional support”. He added that Spanish institutions must “detect situations of moral and social asphyxiation where male members of a family leave girls unprotected by the rule of law.”
This case comes just as Spain is preparing to expand women’s rights in several areas. Last month, the government approved a bill to ease abortion restrictions and provide paid leave for women with severe menstrual pain. Last week, Congress approved a law to ensure that any non-consensual sexual encounter can be considered an assault.
Meanwhile, gender-based violence remains a political priority, with 18 women killed by their partner or ex-partner in Spain so far this year.
Political commentator Josep Martí Blanch accused politicians of being afraid to take on the Terrassa murder case because they feared being deemed racist. However, he warned that Spain’s progressive social agenda meant that “communities living on the margins seem to be moving further and further away from us in the rear view mirror”.