Back in 2016, Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother. Waseem Baloch, in a so-called “honor killing” after she had posted “inappropriate” photos on Facebook. However, almost six years later, the same man is now being acquitted of his charges.
The Balochs lived in a particularly patriarchal and conservative region of Pakistan, so conservative that women had to leave their house in veils while barefoot so they would always be constantly looking down, lest they stumble. Despite this, Qandeel gained a lot of attention from her very bold and daring social media posts, often breaking many social taboos which caused much praise as well as criticism. In her posts, she would often be in bed, wear very skin-revealing and provocative outfits, as well as sing, dance, and even pout directly into the camera. She even one time pledged to strip if Pakistan would beat India in a cricket match that was coming up at the time, however, Pakistan didn’t win. Before her death, she had about 750,000 followers on Facebook and considered herself a modern-day feminist. Even to this day, she is still considered a feminist icon in Pakistani culture, and some women even wear masks with her face during annual Women’s Day Marches.
However, this sort of behavior was what pushed her brother to strangle her in their family home in the city of Multan. In a video made only days after the murder, Waseem confessed to killing her 25-year old sister because she had posted “shameful” photos on her social media, especially a selfie she had made with Mufti Abdul Qavi, a senior member of the clergy. Nowhere in the recording at all does he show any regret, but he did say how he was proud of what he did. “I am proud of what I did. I drugged her first, then I killed her,” stated Waseem. “Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.” Waseem pleaded not guilty in court and was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.
These sorts of “honor killings” aren’t uncommon in Pakistan, and it’s estimated that about 1,000 Pakistani women are killed every year by close relatives in this way. The country (at the time) also had a law that allowed the killer to be released if the victim’s family pardoned them. However, three months after Qandeel’s death, Pakistani passed legislation in response to public outcry that made it so those honor killers wouldn’t be released even if the victim’s family forgave them. For the country’s rights activists, this was seen as a big step forward towards stopping the practice of letting go of convicted killers. Although this may seem promising, there is a loophole.
According to Women’s Rights Activist Nighat Dad, a judge still has the power to decide the fate of a suspect in an honor killing case, even if the victim’s parents forgave them already or not. So despite the passing of this legislation against honor killing, Waseem was still given an acquittal Monday and has been freed. His parents stated that they were sorry for the loss of their daughter, but they didn’t feel like their son belonged in prison, and they had sought after his release ever since he was first incarcerated. “This judgment shows the loopholes in our system and introduced laws,” said Dad. “This is the sorry state of not so sorry State…we are sorry Qandeel. Shocked and speechless.”
“In a society that takes great pleasure in the punishment of women who break the rules, it should come as no surprise that each suspect, in this case, has been acquitted,” stated Sanam Maher, author of “A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch,” on Instagram. “After today’s verdict, we may ask, who killed her? Nobody, it seems. In accepting that answer, we are all complicit in the crime of failing to protect women.”