Perpetrators of honor killing rarely punished because of poor policing, corruption and legal loopholes. Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post: There are “many of the reasons Pakistani officials have failed to curb the problem of honor killings. These include the cruel sway of traditional tribal councils, known as jirgas, over uneducated villagers; the lengths to which such leaders may go to defy state authority; and the casual worthlessness they assign to the rights, lives and even identities of young women. [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 17, 2016]

Some hope this will change. Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: “The killings have fueled a growing public outrage at the practice, and a chorus of voices saying that there is no honor in killing — only dishonor. They are working to close the legal loophole that lets killers go free. A proliferation of television channels and newspapers has brought the horrors of girls strangled, burned alive or shot in the head out of the secrecy of the home and into the public. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, October 3, 2016]

“Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed legislation against killings linked to the concept of “honor”, or “izzat”, following the murder of Qandeel Baloch in 2016. The death of the social media celebrity, who was killed by her brother in the name of “honor”, sparked international outrage. “The bill authorised life imprisonment for convicted murderers. Previously, killers could win — or buy — freedom if the victim’s relatives forgave them.

The real problem, the lawyer Zia Ahmed Awan told the New York Times is that these murders are condoned by Pakistani society. “My firm opinion is that honor killings are community-sanctioned violence, and this cannot only be changed by laws. The perpetrator walks proudly with his chest puffed up with pride.” Mr. Awan listed a number of issues central to honor killings, from the lack of resources to the police’s involvement with the culprits, and the failure to build any mechanism to implement existing legislation. “There was one shelter for women in Karachi when its population was two million, and there’s still one shelter, and the city’s population is 25 million,” he said. Mr. Awan said improving prosecution and an outreach effort in communities were essential steps. [Source: Saba Imtiaz, New York Times, March 2, 2016]

Honor Killings Persist in Pakistan Despite Efforts to Curb Them

“Killings of people who “violate certain patriarchal codes” have continued at the same rate, Nida Kirmani, associate professor of sociology at Lahore University, told The Guardian. “Honor crimes are committed as a way of policing or disciplining women, girls, men and boys who are seen to be violating these rules.” [Source: Shah Meer Baloch, The Guardian, May 17, 2019]

“Qadir Naseeb is one of the many journalists who now rarely cover “honor” killing stories. “I have been threatened by influential people and tribal heads while reporting. No matter how much one highlights this menace, government rarely arrest and punish the culprits. The disturbing part is that all the killers I interviewed never felt guilty.”

“Maliha Saeed has been a woman’s rights advocate for decades. She says the government needs to do a lot more to curb honor killing. “It has to empower women economically and socially. Government should instruct the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to spread the message against honor killings through news channels, dramas. It should discourage violence against women.”

“However, the Balochistan government has yet to arrest the culprits involved in two separate cases of “honor” killing that took place in Kachi district last week. “Unless there is an egalitarian state which empowers women, honor killings will continue,” said Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, a columnist with the Balochistan Times.

Honor Killers Rarely Punished and Why This So

Honor crimes rarely reach the courts and when they do there has often been no punishment because of a loophole in the law that apply to honor killing. In accordance with Islamic Shariah law, Pakistan’s legal code since the 1990s has allowed victims’ families to “forgive” the perpetrators — who are often their own relatives. Since the killers in these cases are usually close relatives, the family almost always forgives them.

Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: “Successive governments have been reluctant to toughen the laws, fearful of Islamic hard-liners who oppose anything they see as weakening enforcement of Shariah, undermining the family’s authority or promoting women’s rights seen as “Western.” [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, July 4, 2016]

Marvi Sermid, a political commentator and women’s rights activist, has felt their wrath. During a televised debate in June exploring the phenomenon of honor killings, lawmaker Hafiz Hamdullah, who belongs to a Taliban-affiliated religious party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, threatened Sermid with rape and called her a whore. A burly, bearded man, Hamdullah was escorted out of the TV station by security guards when he tried to take a swing at Sermid, who has since filed charges.

“Female politicians have also felt resistance to efforts at raising their voices. When lawmaker Shireen Mazari tried to speak up during a parliament debate, the defense minister insulted her appearance and demanded she use a “more feminine” tone. Mazari, the parliamentary leader of Pakistan’s Justice Party, has furiously demanded an apology.

Role of Tribal Councils and the Persistence of Honor Killings in Pakistan

Aftab Borka of Reuters wrote: “Traditionally, people in rural Pakistan have little confidence in, or access to, police and courts in big towns. They solve problems through jirgas, or councils, of village elders. But the councils are often manipulated by the powerful and become tools for sanctioning violence against the weak, often in the course of a dispute within an extended family over land or some other asset. [Source: Aftab Borka, Reuters, January 23, 2009]

“Women are the weakest of all in traditional, male-dominated Muslim society so they are often targeted, rights groups say. “Why does it happen? Because they are always the ones who have no redress, either legally or socially,” Anis Haroon, of the women’s rights group the Aurat Foundation, said of the victims. “They don’t know anyone, they have no contacts, they have no money to offer the police. And these perpetrators come from the higher status of society,” she said.

Orangzeb Magsi, a 32-year-old graduate from a U.S. university, is a leader of one of the most powerful tribes in Balochistan. Magsi has dealt with more than 100 cases of “honor” crime in the past four years in his district but thankfully no killings, he says. Only education and time will bring change, he adds. “On the one hand, you have these centuries old customs and on the other, the government says ‘it’s illegal’,” Magsi said. “Since they are not educated, it’s very difficult to make them understand.”

“Nafeesa Shah, a newly elected member of parliament from a rural area of Sindh province, said the jirgas and custom of killing women over honor reflected the failure of the judicial system. “You had these customs in medieval Europe. You had the lynching of people in America ... These things will only go if you have laws that don’t allow space for it,” Shah said.

Actions Against Honor Killing in Pakistan

Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: “Outrage over recent honor killings and other violence against women has fueled a bold outcry against the establishment. One target in particular has been the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body of conservative, elderly Muslim clerics that advises the government on laws to ensure they don’t stray from Shariah. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, July 4, 2016]

“When the government proposed a law aimed at protecting women against violence, the council put forward an alternative that would allow men to “lightly beat” their wives. Young activists fired up a Twitter campaign with the mocking hashtag #TryBeatingMeLightly. On TV talk shows, guests denounced the council, which has opposed laws against child marriage and denounced using DNA evidence in rape cases, as irrelevant, misogynist and out of touch. In Parliament, some lawmakers called for it to be disbanded. The outcry appears to be having an effect. The council in June decreed that honor killings are un-Islamic.”

Lawyers have used anti-terrorism laws to go after honor killers. Serious crimes are often referred to anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan because they move faster that regular courts. Gannon Two perpetrators in an honor killing “are being charged under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law, specifically under a clause making any act that causes general panic an act of terrorism. Under pressure to do something about honor killings, police and prosecutors have started to use the law as a way around the forgiveness loophole. “It is just cold-blooded murder and it has created panic, so it falls under the anti-terror law,” said Lahore’s deputy police superintendent, Mohammad Amin. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, July 4, 2016]

Honor Killing Legislation in Pakistan

In October 2016, a new law was passed in Parliament that strengthened judicial powers in honor-killing cases. Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post:: “The new law gives judges more ammunition to impose life sentences for honor killings in extreme circumstances, allowing them to overrule personal deals by making the murder a crime against the state. But supporters fear that cultural and political resistance will continue to prevent justice being done. “We don’t know yet whether the law will make much difference. Punishment is still not mandatory, and forgiveness can still negate justice,” said Benazir -Jatoi, a lawyer who works on women’s rights. “Until there is more political will, I don’t think the lives of ordinary women threatened with honor violence will change.” [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 17, 2016]

At the time the law was passed, Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: Despite objections from religious hard-liners, lawmakers took the first significant move to curb mounting numbers of “honor” killings in Pakistan, stiffening the penalties and closing a loophole that allowed such killers to go free. Public outrage has been growing in Pakistan in the wake of a string of particularly gruesome slayings. The measure imposes a mandatory 25-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of killing in the name of honor and bans family members from forgiving them. Relatives can only forgive an honor killer who has been condemned to death, in which case the sentence is commuted to prison. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, October 6, 2016]

“Activists and liberal opposition members who backed the law said it was a step in the right direction, although they said it should have gone further to eliminate forgiveness. “Remove these clauses which allow the option of forgiveness, otherwise these killings will keep happening,” warned Sherry Rehman, an opposition legislator and fierce champion of women’s rights in a speech to parliament.

“Only about a third of the 446 lawmakers attended the session, but debate was raucous, with the loudest opposition coming from hard-line Islamists. Conservative Sen. Hafiz Hamdullah said parliament should instead address elopements by women, claiming 17,000 had done so since 2014. “Why don’t we see what are the reasons behind such killings? Why are girls eloping from their homes?” he said. Speaking later to The Associated Press, he echoed a stance taken by many hard-liners that the law is bringing Western-style independence for women. “They are trying to impose Western culture over here. We will not allow (it),” he said. “We will impose the law that our holy Quran and Sunnah (tradition) say.”

“Conservatives demanded that the Islamic Ideology Council, a body of conservative Muslim clerics, weigh in on the bill before the vote. Supporters flatly refused, saying the council routinely vetoes legislation aimed at protecting women. The council once ruled it was permissible for a man to “lightly” beat his wife, though recently it did say that honor killings are “un-Islamic.” In the end, a voice vote was held, with a strong “yes” vote and a low mumbling of those opposed.

Film “A Girl in the River” Generates Outrage Over Honor Killing:

“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” a documentary by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy which won an Academy Award in February 2016, ignited outrage and drew international attention to the honor killing issue in Pakistan . The film tells the story of a rare attempted honor killing survivor. Amidst publicity for the film, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate the "evil" of honor killings little concrete action or legislation resulted from it.

Alexis Okeowo wrote in The New Yorker: “Obaid-Chinoy is adept at coaxing people to share their stories. “When women in Pakistan speak about personal matters like honor killing and rape, it’s hard for them, because a lot has to do with family honor,” Aleeha Badat, a producer who has worked with Obaid-Chinoy, told me. “They don’t even get permission to come and speak on camera, because their families just don’t allow it. But she has a way of making you feel safe, and like whatever we’re doing is for your benefit.” The message Obaid-Chinoy tried to convey, Badat went on, was: “Yes, you’ve been through a horrific experience, but that doesn’t mean your life is over. With your help, we can do something about it and stand up to the men in your life.”

““A Girl in the River,” released in 2015, investigated the case of a young Punjabi woman whose father shot her in the head and then, with her uncle, dumped her in a river, because she had eloped with a man of whom they did not approve. In the previous three years, there had been more than two thousand honor killings in Pakistan, most of which went unpunished. The woman, whose name was Saba, survived, and began telling her story, talking first to a local news outlet and to the BBC and then to Obaid-Chinoy. “When we got there, she was almost directing us,” Obaid-Chinoy said: “ ‘You should speak to my mother-in-law. At 6 P.M., my husband is going to come after work. Speak to this doctor — he was my first surgeon.’ She had a lot of strength, and wanted us to get the complete story.” After the attack, Saba’s father and uncle were arrested, and Saba had to decide whether to “forgive” them. (By Pakistani law, honor killings can be absolved if the victim, or her family, forgives the perpetrator.) The film follows Saba as she painfully makes the decision to pardon her relatives, pressured by people all around her: her dad, who is unrepentant; male elders in her neighborhood, who insist that she has violated the norms of the community; her mother, who offers sympathy but will not defy her husband’s judgment. [Source: Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, April 9, 2018]

“The film is Obaid-Chinoy’s most visually striking, featuring interview scenes intercut with moody shots of the city. “It’s more sophisticated,” another filmmaker told me. “She let the story tell itself. I think she’s learning that people can hang themselves.” At one point, Obaid-Chinoy interviews Saba’s father through the bars of his jail cell. “Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it,” he says. “Why did she leave home? I labored and earned lawfully to feed her. . . . I have my honor and pride. I couldn’t bear that. If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed!”

“At the end of the film, Saba reconciles with her mother, and we learn that she is pregnant; she hopes to have a daughter. For Western viewers, it’s a gratifying, redemptive ending. The screenings to packed audiences at the United Nations headquarters and the Asia Society in New York were usually followed by discussions about women’s rights in Pakistan; an article in London’s Independent said that the film “could help bring an end to honor killings in the country.” Obaid-Chinoy won a second Oscar for the documentary in 2016.

Saba Qaiser: The “Girl in the River”

Saba Qaiser is the subject of “A Girl in the River”, which was awarded the Oscar for best short subject documentary. When she survived the honor killing when she was 19. Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times: “Her odyssey began when she fell in love against her family’s wishes and ran off to marry her boyfriend. Hours after the marriage, her father and uncle sweet-talked her into their car and took her to a spot along a riverbank to murder her for her defiance — an “honor killing.” [Source: Nicholas Kristof, New York Times , January 30, 2016]

“First they beat Saba, then her uncle held her as her own father pointed a pistol at her head and pulled the trigger. Blood spewed, Saba collapsed and her father and uncle packed her body into a large sack and threw it into the river to sink. They then drove away, thinking they had restored the family’s good name.Incredibly, Saba was unconscious but alive. She had jerked her head as the gun went off, and the bullet tore through the left side of her face but didn’t kill her. The river water revived her, and she clawed her way out of the sack and crawled onto land. She staggered toward a gasoline station, and someone called for help.

“The police arrested Saba’s father, Maqsood, and the uncle, Muhammad, and their defense was that they did the right thing. “She took away our honor,” Maqsood said from his jail cell. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That’s what she has done. … So I said, ‘No, I will kill you myself.’” Maqsood said that after shooting Saba he went home and told his wife, “I have gone and killed your daughter.” He added: “My wife cried. What else could she do? I am her husband. She is just my wife.”

“Tremendous pressure was applied to Saba by community elders to pardon her father and uncle. In the end, her husband’s older brother — the head of her new family — told her to forgive and move on. “There is no other way,” he said. “We have to live in the same neighborhood.” Saba complied, and her father and uncle were released from prison. “After this incident, everyone says I am more respected,” her father boasted. “I can proudly say that for generations to come none of my descendants will ever think of doing what Saba did.” The families still live near each other, although the father insists he will not try again to kill Saba.”

Impact of Saba Qaiser: “A Girl in the River”

Saba Imtiaz wrote in New York Times: “Before traveling to the United States for the Academy Awards ceremony, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy screened “A Girl in the River” at the official residence of Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. And, later, in congratulating her for the award, her second, Mr. Sharif announced that his government was “in the process of legislating to stop such brutal and inhumane acts in the name of honor.” [Source: Saba Imtiaz, New York Times, March 2, 2016]

Ms. Obaid-Chinoy said she was happy to have at least restarted conversation about honor killings. “The thing about Pakistan is that if you want change and if you want to struggle for change in that country, there’s always a heavy price to pay,” she said. “There are so many wonderful people who have been working on legislation and awareness for years. If my film can hopefully play a small part in getting legislation passed and introspection on why this exists in our society, how it manifests, it’s a victory.”

Prime Minister Sharif said: “Saba’s story underscores how the existing law lets people literally get away with murder when honor is the excuse. After doctors saved Saba’s life — as police officers guarded the door so her father didn’t return to finish the job — she was determined to prosecute her father and uncle. “They should be shot in public in an open market,” she told the filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, “so that such a thing never happens again.” [Source: Nicholas Kristof, New York Times , January 30, 2016]

Nicholas Kristof wrote in in the New York Times: “Tremendous pressure was applied to Saba by community elders to pardon her father and uncle. In the end, her husband’s older brother — the head of her new family — told her to forgive and move on. “There is no other way,” he said. “We have to live in the same neighborhood.” Saba complied, and her father and uncle were released from prison. “After this incident, everyone says I am more respected,” her father boasted. “I can proudly say that for generations to come none of my descendants will ever think of doing what Saba did.” The families still live near each other, although the father insists he will not try again to kill Saba.

“The way to reduce honor killings is to end the impunity. Saba tried to do her part, and let’s hope Prime Minister Sharif does indeed end the legal system of forgiveness. “I wanted to start a national discourse about the issue,” says Obaid-Chinoy.“Until we send people to jail and make examples of them, honor killings will continue.”

Pakistani Internet Sensation, Killed by Her Brother in Honor Killing

in July 2016, Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media sensation described as Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, was strangled by her brother in central Pakistan, police officials said in an apparent honor killing. The brother Waseem, admitted drugging and strangling his siste, who earned money from modeling that helped support her family. In a confession statement to police, her brother said, "Money matters, but family honor is more important." Waseem's rage was reportedly stirred by selfies that Balochtook with a famous religious cleric named Mufti Abdul Qavi in a hotel room. [Source: Max Bearak, Washington Post, July 20, 2016]

Salman Masood wrote in the New York Times: “The police said Ms. Baloch was apparently attacked on Friday night while she was asleep in her parents’ house in Muzaffarabad, a town on the outskirts of Multan in the province of Punjab. Ms. Baloch’s brother, Waseem Ahmed Azeem, was arrested in connection with her death. [Source: Salman Masood, New York Times, July 16, 2016

“Ms. Baloch, 26, a model, singer and social media celebrity, had gained notoriety in Pakistan recently because of provocative, seminude photographs of herself that she posted on social media sites, and appearances in music videos. Her bold persona defied the conventions of Pakistan, a deeply conservative society. She was reviled by some in the country for being crass and vulgar, and prone to attention-seeking stunts. But other Pakistanis admired her defiance and independence. She attracted more than 700,000 followers on Facebook and at least 40,000 on Twitter.

“Ms. Baloch’s latest appearance was in a video by an unknown singer, in which she danced provocatively to a song titled “Ban.” The producers of the song anticipated that it could not be broadcast on mainstream entertainment channels and instead posted it on YouTube. “Qandeel was probably the first true female internet celebrity in Pakistan, in that her celebrity had nothing to do with any achievement beyond her provocative presence on social media,” said Hasan Zaidi, a Pakistani filmmaker and media critic. “It was unfathomable to a lot of Pakistanis that a real woman could be as brazen or shameless about her sexuality publicly, because her entire persona was built around flaunting her body, talking about sex and being in everyone’s face,” Mr. Zaidi said.

“Born to a poor family from the backwaters of Punjab, Ms. Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, said she had run away from home to pursue her dream of becoming a star. She took to social media after unsuccessful efforts to enter the mainstream entertainment industry. In interviews, she acknowledged that she was pushing the traditional boundaries of socially acceptable behavior in Pakistan. “I know I exploited the freedom given to me by my parents,” she said in an interview with BBC. “But now, it is too late.”

“In June, Ms. Baloch posted photographs of herself with a well-known Muslim cleric, Mufti Abdul Qavi, which attracted much attention on social media. The pictures show Ms. Baloch pouting and wearing the cleric’s hat while he, seemingly bedazzled, stares into the camera. Many Pakistanis saw the photographs as scandalous, and Mr. Qavi was removed from his position on the country’s moon-sighting committee, which determines when Ramadan starts and ends in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.” After that “she found herself in the spotlight again after local media outlets reported that a man identified as her former husband claimed that he had a son with her and that he had divorced her after he could not meet her demands to provide a house and a luxury car. In response, Ms. Baloch said she had been a victim of domestic abuse. Ms. Baloch was not shy about saying she wanted to be famous. In a Twitter post, Ms. Baloch wrote: “I will fight for it. I will not give up. I will reach my goal and absolutely nothing will stop me.”

“The news of her death prompted an immediate outcry on Twitter and Facebook in Pakistan, with many people condemning her killing and praising Ms. Baloch for her irreverent and uninhibited ways. “Qandeel Baloch was no role model,” Sherry Rehman, an opposition politician and a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, posted on Twitter. “But she deserved a better life and death. Strongly condemn.”

Impact of Qandeel Baloch’s Honor Killing and Conviction of Her Brother

Qandeel Baloch’s death had a considerable impact on the campaign against honor killing. Max Bearak wrote in the Washington Post: “In a small, judicial way, it now appears her death, unlike so many before it, may not be totally in vain. The politically influential daughter of Pakistan's prime minister, Maryam Sharif, said that her father's party would introduce legislation by next week to close a legal loophole allowing family members of honor killers to pardon them. e have finalized the draft law in the light of negotiations," she told Reuters in an interview. "The final draft will be presented to a committee of joint session of parliament on July 21 for consideration and approval." [Source: Max Bearak, Washington Post, July 20, 2016]

“Pakistan's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, told Reuters that it would not argue against the bill. But other influential Islamic advisory bodies indicated their disapproval of the move. “Islamic law and the Quran say that the right to forgive or punish lies first and foremost with the victim's family," said Inam Ullah, spokesman for the Council on Islamic Ideology, a government advisory body. "So if this bill is trying to completely take away that right from the family, then of course that is against Islamic teachings. The state cannot completely take away that right from the family." Baloch's family wouldn't have been able to pardon her brother, Waseem, because the government of the state of Punjab where she lived took a rare move. It made the state a complainant in the case, which closes the family forgiveness loophole for prosecution.

In September 2019, Qandeel Baloch’s brother was found guilty of murder. Reuters reported: A court in the eastern city of Multan found Muhammad Waseem guilty of the murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.“Waseem has been given life in prison," his lawyer, Sardar Mehboob, told Reuters. Six others accused of involvement have been acquitted, the lawyer said. They included two of Baloch's other brothers, her cousin, a neighbor, a driver, and a Muslim cleric. [Source: Mubasher Bukhari, Reuters, September 27, 2019]

“Waseem admitted in a 2016 media conference organized by police that he strangled his 26-year-old sister due to her social media activities. Local media had reported that Waseem's parents had forgiven their son and asked for him to be acquitted.

Honor Killing Continues in Pakistan After New Laws

On the honor-killing legislation, Alexis Okeowo wrote in The New Yorker: “None of the laws have had much effect on people’s practices”. Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is “one of the few Pakistani women who have a say in what is often an entirely white and entirely Western conversation,” Rafia Zakaria, a Pakistani writer, told the The New Yorker. “But this trickle-down moral change is never going to happen. So the question becomes, Is your goal to end honor killings, or to participate in the existing global conversation on honor killings? The problem is, at the ground level you’re not changing cultural and social attitudes.” [Source: Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, April 9, 2018]

Saba later told reporters that her family were deeply “disturbed” by “A Girl in the River,” and perceived it as another blow to their honor. Last year, Saba left the country with her husband and children. To Obaid-Chinoy’s dismay, when she screened “A Girl in the River” male viewers often cheered for Saba’s father. (Sometimes she held separate screenings for women inside trailers.) She often surveyed her audiences to see what they had taken from the film. “You have to keep shining a light on things, even if nobody changes their mind while watching the film,” Obaid-Chinoy said. “There will be somebody who will think twice about what a woman goes through, or about killing a woman.”

A year after the new laws were implemented to curb "honor killings", scores of young women were still being murdered by relatives for bringing shame on their family. AFP reported: Lawyers and activists say honor killings are still occurring at an alarming pace. At least 280 such murders were recorded by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan from October 2016 to June of this year — a figure believed to be underestimated and incomplete. Benazir Jatoi, a lawyer who works for the independent Aurat Foundation, said, "There has been no change... In fact, the Peshawar High Court twice acquitted a man of honor crimes after this law was passed." [Source: AFP, October 31, 2017]

“The new legislation mandates life imprisonment for honor killings, but whether a murder can be defined as a crime of honor is left to the judge´s discretion. That means the culprits can simply claim another motive and still be pardoned, said Dr Farzana Bari, a widely-respected activist and head of the Gender Studies Department at Islamabad´s Quaid-i-Azam University. They can do so under Pakistan´s Qisas (blood money) and Diyat (retribution) law, which allows them to seek forgiveness from a victim´s relatives — a particularly convenient means of escape in honor cases. The convoluted courts system also often sees police encouraging parties to enter blood money compromises, circumventing the beleaguered judicial system altogether.

For Jatoi, the issue goes far beyond the courts — from the elites, where the political leadership fails to understand the issue, to the rural masses, where illiteracy and poverty help perpetuate it. "Forgiveness and compromise negates justice," Jatoi said. "Only when we widely condemn the act will we stop seeing proud murderers... telling of how they killed a woman because she breached an outdated, arbitrary, and patriarchal ´honor´ code of which no one knows the rules."

Five Pakistani Girls Killed for Having Fun

Five young women, known only as Bazeegha, Sareen Jan, Begum Jan, Amina and Shaheen were last seen alive in 2010. A cellphone video of them laughing and clapping to music, dressed in orange headscarves and robes with floral patterns, at a party or a wedding, was taken shortly before they disappeared from their village deep in Kohistan, a rugged area of northwest Pakistan. [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 17, 2016]

Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post: According to court filings and interviews with people who investigated it, the families confined the girls for weeks, threw boiling water and hot coals on them, then killed them and buried them somewhere in the Kohistan hills. Later, when investigators appeared, relatives and community leaders insisted that the girls were still alive and produced a second set of similar-looking girls to prove it. They even disfigured one girl’s thumbprints so she couldn’t be checked against the identity of the victim she was supposed to impersonate.

“The Kohistan case unfolded in a conservative rural region where social mingling between genders is taboo. The girls’ participation in a coed singing party was risky enough, but someone posted the video on the Internet, where it spread rapidly, bringing shame on their community before the vast virtual world. The head of the local jirga, a Muslim cleric, allegedly issued a religious decree ordering the five girls to be killed for dishonoring their tribe, along with the boy seen dancing and every member of his family. There was no resistance from the community. After the girls were disposed of, several brothers of the boy were also caught and killed. The rest of the family, including Kohistani, fled the area.

Trying to Find Out What Happened to Five Pakistani Girls Killed for Having Fun

Pamela Constable wrote in the Washington Post: The truth finally began to emerge, mostly through the efforts of a few individuals including Afzal Kohistani, a young man whose brothers were killed as a result of the incident. He spent years seeking help from local and provincial officials, then petitioned the Supreme Court. In 2012, his case was dismissed, but” in December 2016 “the high court reopened it and ordered a new investigation that has produced a chilling report. “This has destroyed my family. The girls are dead, my brothers have been killed and nothing has been done to bring justice or protect us,” said Kohistani, 26, who has received death threats. “I know I will probably be killed, too, but it doesn’t matter.“What happened is wrong, and it has to change.” [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, December 17, 2016]

“There things stood for more than a year. No crimes were reported, and no one came to investigate. Kohistani, a college graduate from one of the area’s wealthier families, said he repeatedly approached local and provincial officials, reporting the killings and seeking protection, but was chided for opposing the jirga’s verdict. “No one in my district or my province has ever spoken against honor killing. They tell me I have defamed my culture, my religion, my tribe,” Kohistani said. “Everybody knows what happened, but no one is ready to come forward. This is an illegal, unconstitutional and un-Islamic tradition, but people don’t even consider it a crime.”

“With assistance from a lawyer in Islamabad, Kohistani appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a liberal activist, personally took up the case in 2012 and ordered two fact-finding missions sent to the remote area by helicopter. When the visitors demanded to see the girls, their families at first refused but eventually presented three girls and said they were the ones in the video. The three delegates had no chance to speak to the girls in private, but they compared their faces with images from the video. Two were convinced of the likenesses; the third, Farzana Bari, said she had doubts. “I was upset and confused. We had no translators who knew their dialect, and everyone there insisted these were the same girls,” recounted Bari, an academic in Islamabad. “When we got back the second time, I filed a dissenting report, but the judge closed the case. I still feel terrible.”

“After that, life in the village apparently returned to normal for several years. One journalist sent photos of both groups of girls to analysts in England, who found only a 14 percent chance they were the same individuals. That evidence was taken to a provincial court, but it declined to take action. Kohistani, in the interview, named each of the original girls and their replacements, who he said were similar-looking sisters, cousins and sisters-in-law.

“Finally, last month, Kohistani’s crusade got an unexpected break when the Supreme Court, under a new chief justice, agreed to accept his petition. Once more, a fact-finding mission was sent to the village. This time, it included a district judge and two police officers, armed with government ID records with the heights and thumbprints of the missing girls.

“In his report afterward, Kohistan Judge Shoaib Khan said the village elders were “unanimous” in insisting that the girls were alive. But two of the girls they produced were much younger than the victims, according to their official birth dates. A third could not be identified because both thumbs had been burned; her parents insisted that it was from a cooking accident. He concluded that at least two girls did not match the ones in the video and that the others were probably also impostors. “All this leads to the suspicious conclusion that something is wrong at bottom,” Khan wrote. The case, he advised, “needs exhaustive inquiry.”

“On a recent day, Kohistani, wearing a conservative suit and carrying a copy of the judge’s report, walked up to the Supreme Court. He smiled slightly as he shook hands with his attorney, and they went inside to wait for the next hearing.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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