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Bridges TV Founder Charged with Wife’s Beheading

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Feb 27, 2009

The co-founder and chairman of a Muslim-American television station was charged with second degree murder Feb. 18 in upstate New York in the death of his wife, who was found beheaded at their joint office.

The beheaded body of Aasiya Zubair Hassan, 37, was found Feb. 12 at the Orchard Park, N.Y., office of Bridges TV, the station the couple had jointly founded in 2004. She leaves behind two children, ages four and six.

Aasiya’s husband, Muzzammil, remains in jail without bail, after a brief appearance Feb. 18 at Orchard Park Village Court. Orchard Park is a prosperous suburb of Buffalo, New York.

Orchard Park Police Department Chief Andrew Benz told India-West that Muzzammil Hassan had walked into the station at approximately 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 12 to tell police his wife was dead, and that her body could be found at the offices of his television station.

Benz said the police had not yet determined the time of Aasiya’s death, and added that there was no other staff at Bridges TV station when the slaying occurred.

Police arrived at the Bridges TV station and found Aasiya’s body in a hallway with her severed head nearby. Benz did not say what type of weapon had been used in the slaying, but several media have reported that Muzzammil allegedly used hunting knives.

A week earlier, Aasiya had served her husband with divorce papers at the station. Benz said that Aasiya, who was reportedly physically abused by her husband, had also obtained an order protection that prohibited Muzzammil from coming to their home, but which did not extend to their shared workplace.

Aasiya was Muzzammil’s third wife. He is separated from his spouses in two previous marriages.

The police chief also said that there had been other “domestic incidents” at the Hassan home, but declined to comment on the number of previous calls to the home or how those incidents were resolved.

Several media have portrayed Aasiya’s death as an “honor killing,” the ancient tradition of killing a female who has tarnished the reputation of her family. But many Islamic organizations and women’s rights groups have said the death was a result of domestic violence and have denounced the killing (see separate story).

Nadia Shahram, an attorney who appeared weekly on the Bridges TV show “All Legal,” told India-West it was too early to say whether Aasiya’s slaying was in fact an “honor killing.” “We don’t know enough about the case to come to that conclusion,” she said.

Shahram believes Muzzammil snapped after he learned Aasiya planned to divorce him.

“He was served with the divorce papers at work, which can be really shocking and devastating to the person being served,” said Shahram. “It’s very rare to see a Muslim woman file for divorce,” said the marriage mediation attorney, who also teaches family law and Islamic studies at the University of Buffalo. “The way Muslims look at divorce, it is not taken lightly.”

Shahram saw Muzzammil in court on Feb. 18, and said he looked drugged and spaced out. “He is a big man, but he looked like a baby,” she said, predicting that the Pakistan native will plead insanity as the case goes to trial.

Faizan Haq, who worked with the Hassans for six months in 2002 to formulate a plan for the not-yet-launched television station, told India-West that he never saw any signs of trouble between the couple.

“They put on a good show,” said Haq, who teaches Islamic culture at the University of Buffalo. “I was not aware of any friction between them.”

Haq recalled seeing marks on Aasiya’s face once, which resembled a black eye. Aasiya, a horserider, told Haq she had fallen off her horse. “I believed her then, but now I wonder,” he said.

Aasiya might have been afraid to talk about Muzzammil’s alleged abuse of her because of repercussions for the television station, said Haq, who characterized the young woman as a martyr. “If only she had whispered to people in the community, we could have helped her,” he said. “But she didn’t want that. In the toughest of times, she simply put up with it.”

The station was Aasiya’s dream, said Haq. “Her vision was to promote a positive image of Muslims in America and to counter the stereotypes of Islam,” he said, adding that her beheading has “undone all her hard work.”

“We have to address domestic violence in the South Asian community, said Haq. “It’s such a taboo to talk about abuse in our culture, but we’ve got to look it straight in the eye,” he reiterated.

Haq did not believe Muzzammil had beheaded his wife as an “honor killing,” characterizing the Bridges TV chairman as “a modern man through and through, not tribal in any way.”

Atashi Chakravarty, executive director of Berkeley, Calif.-based Narika, told India-West that family members need to be aware of signs that a woman is being abused. Such signs include withdrawal from family and friends, breaking away from friendships — including un-returned phone calls — and not participating in her usual activities.

Chakravarty suggested family members reach out to an abused spouse in a non-judgmental way. “I’m here to listen,” she suggested saying, adding that judgment and blame often accompany a woman being abused.

Muzzammil Hassan’s attorney James Harrington had not returned several calls for comment at press time.

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