A Pakistani social media star’s brother, accused of murdering her, walks free

Where is the justice?
Where is the justice?
Image: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo
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A Pakistani court has acquitted the main accused in one of the country’s most high-profile cases of honour killing.

Muhammad Waseem, the brother of social media star Fouzia Azeem, was found not guilty of her murder by a court in Multan today (Feb. 15), the AFP reported. The woman went by the name of Qandeel Baloch on social media.

Baloch was allegedly strangled to death on July 15, 2016, and Waseem had confessed to the crime. She was 26 at that time.

“She was bringing disrepute to our family’s honour and I could not tolerate it any further,” Waseem said at a police press conference at the time of his arrest a day after the murder.

Baloch was in the public glare, especially that of the religious clergy, for her provocative posts that were viewed as being in stark contrast to Pakistan’s conservative norms for women.

The Qandeel Baloch murder case

Waseem had claimed that he killed his sister in what is called an “honour killing.” Baloch’s social media posts often raised eyebrows, including photos of herself with Mufti Qavi, a prominent religious leader at his hotel in the country in June 2016. She was criticised for being too provocative in the photos they took together, and even wearing Qavi’s hat.

Baloch, who projected herself as a well-off social media star, belonged to a modest, conservative family in Pakistan’s rural Punjab province. Before her murder, a national newspaper had published details of her passport and her true identity which, her brother Waseem said, brought shame to the family.

“Your sister is singing and dancing in her knickers and you’re living a luxurious life with the money she earns,” one man from Baloch’s village told him, according to the BBC. “You have no ghairat (honour).”

“In the future, before you humiliate the clergy, you should remind yourself of this woman’s fate,” Qavi had said in response to a reporter’s question on her murder.

What the Pakistani law says

Honour killings were outlawed in Pakistan in 2004 and carried a punishment of a minimum of seven years to a maximum death penalty.

But a loophole allowed the victim’s family to pardon the perpetrator. Baloch’s parents had initially claimed they would not use this pardon but later changed their minds.

The law also leaves it up to the judge presiding over the case to decide whether the murder fell in the ambit of an honour killing, according to AFP. This allows the accused to claim a different motive for their crimes in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Waseem was sentenced to life and had been serving prison time for the past six years. Lawyers in Pakistan told AFP that he is now expected to be released later this week.