September 27, 2019 / 8:55 AM / 20 days ago

Brother found guilty of 'honor killing' of Pakistan social media star

LAHORE (Reuters) - A Pakistan court on Friday convicted the brother of social media star Qandeel Baloch of her murder, a 2016 killing that sparked a change in laws and ignited fierce debate over the prevalence of ‘honor killings’ of women.

FILE PHOTO: People wear masks depicting Qandeel Baloch, social media celebrity, who according to the police was strangled in what appeared to be an "honour killing" in 2016, as they take part in an Aurat March, or Women's March in Karachi, Pakistan March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

A court in the eastern city of Multan found Muhammad Waseem guilty of the murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment, his lawyer told Reuters.

“Waseem has been given life in prison,” the lawyer, Sardar Mehboob, told Reuters by phone after the verdict was delivered.

“It is for sure that we will appeal in the High Court.”

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.

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

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.

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

Her 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 would not walk free if family members forgave them.

Local media had reported in August that Waseem’s parents had forgiven their son and asked for him to be acquitted. Reuters was unable to reach them for comment.

Hundreds of women are killed each year in Pakistan by family members over perceived damage to “honor” that can involve eloping, fraternizing with men or any other infraction against conservative values that govern women’s modesty.

Women’s rights experts say that enforcement of justice is often lax, with proceedings at times being drawn out while accused killers were freed on bail and cases faded away.

“It takes too long, people forget,” said Farzana Bari, a women’s rights advocate and founder of Pakistan’s first gender studies department at a university, adding that even the high-profile Baloch case had taken over three years to be resolved.

Though rights groups say reliable data is hard to establish, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found at least 300 cases of “honor killing” in 2018.

Many advocates say the actual number is far higher, with the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network estimating that Pakistan accounts for about a fifth of the 5,000 honor killings globally each year.

Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in LAHORE; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Himani Sarkar

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