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Pakistan plans to finally stop letting 'honor killings' go unpunished

The calls to close a legal loophole have intensified in recent days after Qandeel Baloch, the “Kim Kardashian of Pakistan,” was murdered by her brother in what is being deemed an honor killing.

by Davide Mastracci
Jul 20 2016, 6:44pm

Qandeel Baloch en una conferencia, en junio de 2016. (M. Jameel/AP)

A loophole allowing perpetrators of "honor killings" in Pakistan to escape prosecution will be closed within weeks, according to a prominent member of Pakistan Muslim League, the state's ruling party.

Honor killings have been illegal in Pakistan since 2004, but perpetrators have often failed to be charged after being pardoned by family members, which protects them from prosecution.

The calls to close this loophole have intensified in recent days after Qandeel Baloch, the "Kim Kardashian of Pakistan," was murdered in what is being deemed an honor killing.

Baloch rose to fame on social media with actions, such as promising to publish a striptease if Pakistan won a cricket match, which challenged conservative social norms in Pakistan. Her Facebook page had received hundreds of thousands of likes at the time of her death, as Baloch had attracted many fans who viewed her as an important figure in the fight against misogyny.

Yet Baloch was also the recipient of a never-ending flow of threats from all aspects of Pakistani society. On July 14, Baloch told a reporter she feared for her life due to threats, and planned to move abroad with her parents after failing to receive protection from authorities. On July 15, Baloch was strangled to death by her brother, in the family home that she had paid for.

In a confession video, he said he killed Baloch because, "girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that," adding that her social media presence was "too much" for him to deal with.

Pakistan Muslim League has been attempting to close the loophole in prosecuting honor killings for months, according to political activist and daughter of the prime minister, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, but has been caught up in negotiations with religious-oriented parties in the parliament.

'She was my son, not a daughter. I have lost my son. She supported all of us, including my son who killed her.'

The bill was originally passed by the upper house of parliament in 2014, though it lapsed before the lower house was able to vote it into law.

In February, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised to speed up the process to pass the law, but there was little progress until Baloch was killed.

The final draft of the bill is now ready, and "will be presented to a committee of joint session of Parliament on July 21 for consideration and approval," according to Maryam Sharif. Upon being approved, the bill will then be presented for a vote of approval before a joint session of Parliament within a couple weeks, where it is expected to pass.

Nearly 1,100 women in Pakistan were killed by family members last year, according to the Human Right's Commission of Pakistan's 2015 report, though it's likely many others haven't been reported to authorities. The report also notes that 88 men were murdered in honor killings in the same year.

These women were often killed by fathers, brothers or uncles, who were then able to be pardoned by other members of their family.

This legal loophole has been reinforced by the Council of Islamic Ideology, a prominent body that advises the government on how to make its laws compatible with Islam. The CII says honor killings violate Islamic law, but it takes issue with the effort to strip the victim's family of their ability to pardon the perpetrator.

Inam Ullah, the spokesperson for the CII, told Reuters that "if this bill is trying to completely take away that right from the family, then of course that is against Islamic teachings," adding "Islamic law and the Koran say that the right to forgive or punish lies first and foremost with the victim's family." Other council of Islamic scholars in Pakistan have issued fatwas against honor killings, calling them an "un-Islamic and un-pardonable sin."

A spokesperson for Pakistan's major religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, told Reuters the party will not oppose the bill.

Watch the VICE News documentary, The Kohistan Story: Killing for Honor:

Honor killings are banned and severely prosecuted in several other Muslim majority countries, including Turkey, where in 2009 a family of five was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime.

Perpetrators and other family members in Pakistan typically justify the killings by claiming victims, almost always women, violated family honor by interacting with men. In April, for example, a 16-year-old was killed by her brother for speaking with a boy on the phone. The girl's father pardoned his son, though it wasn't legally binding as the state decided to intervene.

Police sources, responding to Baloch's murder, said the government would bar a legal pardon from the family, though her father, Mohammad Azeem, vowed not to forgive the murder regardless.

At Baloch's funeral, Azeem said, "she was my son, not a daughter. I have lost my son. She supported all of us, including my son who killed her."

Follow Davide Mastracci on Twitter: @DavideMastracci