Man claiming to be Muslim is first in UK to be jailed for forced marriage

LONDON (AFP) - A 34-year-old man was jailed for 16 years on Wednesday following Britain's first conviction for the largely hidden practice of forced marriage.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted making a 25-year-old devout Muslim woman marry him against her will.

The already-married Welsh businessman, who claimed to follow Islam, systematically raped his victim between March and September last year.

He threatened to go public with hidden camera footage of her in the shower moments after he took her virginity unless she became his wife.

Just as his victim was about to give evidence in his trial in Wales, he pleaded guilty to forced marriage, four counts of rape, one of bigamy and one of voyeurism.

Laws banning forced marriage in England and Wales came into effect in June last year.

Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honour killings in Britain, with several cases coming to national prominence.

The legislation also makes it a criminal offence to force a British national into a marriage abroad, as many youngsters are flown out to weddings in countries where they have roots - namely Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

In court, judge Daniel Williams said the defendant used "constant threats" to try to keep his victim quiet.

"When you first raped her, she was still a virgin - something which you would use to ensure her silence," he said.

"It was your intention to cause her irreparable harm so that no one would want her.

"She was told that if she did not submit to your demands her parents would be killed."

The judge added: "While you have pleaded guilty... there has been no genuine show of remorse."

Iwan Jenkins of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Forced marriage wrecks lives and destroys families. We hope that today's sentence sends a strong message that forced marriage will not be tolerated in today's Britain."

A forced marriage is defined as one in which one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it by physical, psychological, financial, sexual or emotional pressure.

Forcing someone to marry can result in a prison sentence of up to seven years. The man in this case has a longer sentence due to other additional crimes.

The British government's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,267 cases last year, with 11 per cent relating to people aged under 16.

The cases related to more than 80 different countries, although 38 per cent were linked to Pakistan, eight per cent to India and seven per cent to Bangladesh.