Brother of murdered Pakistan social media star gets life in 'honour killing' case

Brother of murdered Pakistan social media star gets life in 'honour killing' case

In life, she chased fame, hoping to make her mark in Pakistani society. In death, murdered social
Social media star Qandeel Baloch. (Photo: AFP/STR) 

LAHORE: The brother of Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was on Friday (Sep 27) sentenced to life in prison for her murder.

Baloch, 26, who shot to fame for her risque selfies - tame by Western standards, but considered provocative in Pakistan - was strangled in July 2016. The case sparked a change in laws and ignited fierce debate over the prevalence of "honour killings" of women. 

Her brother Muhammad Waseem was guilty of the murder by a court in the eastern city of Multan.

"Waseem has been given life in prison," his lawyer Sardar Mehboob told Reuters by phone, shortly after the verdict was delivered. He added he would file an appeal against the verdict.

Six other people, including two of Baloch's other brothers, had been acquitted, he said.

"We are distraught by this verdict. The government is still enslaved to the whites and is bowing to their rules," said Baloch's brother Aslam Shaheen, who was among the acquitted.

Waseem had admitted in a 2016 media conference organised by police that he strangled his 26-year-old sister due to her social media activities.

He said he had no remorse over what he did, saying that "of course" he had murdered his sister and that her behaviour had been "intolerable".

Baloch had posted risque Facebook posts in which she spoke of trying to change "the typical orthodox mindset" of people in Pakistan. She faced frequent misogynist abuse and death threats but continued to post provocative pictures and videos.

Described as Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, had built a modelling career on the back of her social media fame, but drew ire from many in the South Asian nation.

Earlier, her mother Anwar Mai told AFP she had hoped her son Waseem would also be acquitted.

"He is innocent. She was my daughter and he is my son," she said.

VERDICT A "POWERFUL STATEMENT" 

Baloch's killing sent shockwaves across Pakistan and triggered an outpouring of grief on social media, and prompted the government to tighten laws to ensure that killers could not walk free if family members forgave them.

About 500 women are killed each year in Pakistan at the hands of family members over perceived damage to "honour" that can involve eloping, fraternizing with men or any other infraction against conservative values that govern women's modesty.

The roots of "honour" killings lie in tribal social norms which remain prevalent across South Asia and dictate the behaviour of women in particular.

Sanam Maher - the author of the book A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch - said the verdict sent a "powerful statement" but warned that it would take more than a court decision to reverse deep-seated prejudices.

"I don't think we can say that the court's verdict is going to fix everything. It's a band-aid on a bullet wound," Maher told AFP.

Three months after Baloch's murder, parliament passed new legislation mandating life imprisonment for honour killings.

However, whether a murder is defined as a crime of honour is left to the judge's discretion, meaning that killers can theoretically claim a different motive and still be pardoned.

In Baloch's case, her parents initially insisted their son would be given no absolution.

But, heartbroken at the thought of losing him too, they changed their minds and said they wanted him to be forgiven.

International revulsion at the killing had seen the Pakistani state take the unprecedented step of declaring itself an heir alongside the parents, however, forcing the case to move ahead.

Baloch is known for having offered to perform a striptease for the Pakistani cricket team and donning a plunging scarlet dress on Valentine's Day.

She attracted criticism and threats but was perceived by many, including young people, as breaking new ground for creating herself as a strong figure in a bold, political act of women's empowerment.

Source: Agencies/ad

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