Qandeel’s lost case

Qandeel’s lost case

Synopsis

LHC’s decision to set the murderer free sparks a legal debate

Qandeel’s lost case
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It appears to be a deep irony that a Lahore High Court (LHC) bench chose February 14 – the Valentine’s Day – to acquit the murderer of social media sensation Qandeel Baloch.

The LHC’s Multan bench cancelled the life imprisonment of Muhammad Waseem – Qandeel’s real brother – after witnesses deviated from their statements and Qandeel’s mother submitted a reconciliation agreement stipulating parental pardon.

Qandeel, who had shot to fame due to her self-made Facebook videos, was found strangled in her Multan residence on July 16, 2016.

Muhammad Waseem had later admitted at a press conference organized by the police that he killed his sister “for honor” as Qandeel had crossed all limits and had brought shame to the family by continually posting objectionable videos on social media.

On the basis of his confession and evidence, a sessions court in Multan on September 27, 2019 sentenced him to life in prison. According to some reports, Qandeel’s family had attempted then to withdraw the case against Waseem but the court had not allowed this.

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Later, the convict moved the LHC against the sessions court’s verdict and the LHC acquitted Waseem, sending a shockwave across Pakistan’s showbiz community and social media users.

Even some ministers and lawmakers expressed concern over the verdict with Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry urging the nation to be “ashamed of this system”.

A lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Maleeka Bokhari, said in a tweet that the state is undertaking a review of legal options in the case in light of law and the apex court judgments.

“Honour killing of women and girls is black mark on our society. Law was amended to ensure murderer of women, whether a ‘celebrity’ or ordinary women does not walk free,” she said.

Qandeel’s parents had initially said that there was no mercy for Waseem, as he killed his sister but later they changed their mind. Talking to media after the court order, Qandeel mother said she was happy over the acquittal of her son, but was still sad for her daughter’s loss.

“My slain daughter cannot come back but I am thankful to the court which released my son at my request,” she said, according to some reports.

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In Pakistan, the Islamic law allows a murder victim’s family to pardon the murderer.

Recently the law was changed and a murderer is no longer able to seek forgiveness from the victim’s family. Still,  a judge can decide if a murder is defined as a “crime of honor”, which means the killers can claim a different motive to be pardoned.

Honor killing was officially outlawed in Pakistan in 2004, yet persistent cultural norms and a legal loophole allows the perpetrators to be forgiven by the victim’s family.

The saga

Qandeel Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, hailed from a remote area of Multan where social media use was still limited. She, however, became a sensation in early 2016 particularly after she posted her videos and photos with renowned religious scholar Mufti Qavi.

In the selfies, she could be seen snuggling up to Mufti Qavi, then a member of a government-funded religious committee, with his hat perched at a jaunty angle on her own head.

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When the videos and photos went viral, Qandeel came under the glare of the mainstream media with multiple outlets inviting both her and Mufti Qavi to often sensational interviews.

According to some writers, before the Mufti Qavi episode the members of her family and community did not identify the “Qandeel Baloch” of social media as their Fauzia Azeem.

A week before her murder Qandeel had requested the Interior Ministry to provide her security in view of death threats. However, the authorities had not taken her request seriously.

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