A social media celebrity from Pakistan was killed on Friday night (July 15) in another case of “honor killing”, a custom which had claimed a thousand lives every year in the country.
Qandeel Baloch, 26, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, was strangled to death by Muhammad Waseem, her own brother, for “disgracing the family”. He said he has “no regrets” for killing his sister.
Honor killing is a term used for murder by a family member in order to clean the family name from shameful acts done by the victim. This tradition has its roots in tribal social norms that remains prevalent until today across South Asia. The victims are dominantly women.
Baloch rose to fame by joining a Pakistan singing competition in 2013. The videos of her performance went viral and she was known to the public. In her social media accounts, she often posted controversial video of herself voicing her opinion on sensitive matters, mostly on gender issues.
In spite of her popularity, her willingness to bluntly defy the social norms and taboo earned herself criticism and threats from the conservative elements of the Pakistani society. In her recent videos, there are such that included twerking and a promise to strip for the national cricket team captain if they win a world championship.
The cause of her murder is not a rare thing in Pakistan. In 2015, there are 933 recorded cases of honor killing, and it may be only a fraction of the actual number, which is unknown.
The overwhelming number of murder is apparently the result of Pakistan’s criminal code, a mixture of British-inherited law and Islamic custom based on Sharia introduced by a military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. Two years after Zia’s death, the government introduced the law of Qisas (blood money) and Diyat (retribution) which allows murderers to avoid the prison by seeking forgiveness from the victim’s family.
This policy apparently gives chance to honor killings to take place even more than before. In his book “The Application of Islamic Criminal Law in Pakistan: Sharia in Practice” legal scholar Tahir Wasti compared the number of victims in 1981-1990 (before the law) to 1991-2000. The result was that the number was increasing by more than a third in districts around the city of Multan, near where Baloch was killed.
The law also increases the rate of cancellation of cases – from 6 to 12 percent. The police even encouraged people to resort to blood-money compromises.
Pakistan had amended its criminal code in 2005 to prevent the murder excusing himself as the victim’s “heir”. But the fact that the other relatives of the victim can still forgive the murderer without him/her going to jail still proves that the law is defective.
Sherry Rehman, an opposition senator known for her efforts on women’s rights, has been trying to amend the criminal code. However she still requires the votes of the prime minister’s ruling party.
Despite the unlikelihood of these kind of cases being processed, Baloch’s case is possibly an exception. Her brother Muhammad Waseem had already admitted to the crime and is in police custody. Baloch’s parents also want him to face justice.
“She supported all of us, including my son who killed her,” Mohammad Azeem, father of Baloch told reporters, according to Dawn newspaper.