The brother of Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch was sentenced on Friday to life in prison for her murder.
Baloch, whose real name was Fouzia Azeem, rose to fame for her provocative social media posts that saw her praised by some but condemned by conservatives for breaking social taboos.
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The 26-year-old was strangled in July 2016 by her brother Muhammad Waseem, who has admitted to the crime.
“The accused Waseem has been sentenced to life imprisonment [by the court today],” said Saleem Bahar, who was in court in the central Pakistani city of Multan as the verdict was read out.
“He was convicted on the basis of his [initial] confession and additional evidence.”
Bahar said the family attempted to withdraw the case against Waseem during the trial, but were not allowed to by the court.
“They did try to forgive him […] They compromised and submitted an application to the court to forgive him, but the court declined.”
Days later, after his arrest in July, Waseem told a news conference that he had no remorse over what he did, saying that “of course” he had murdered his sister and that her behaviour had been “intolerable”.
Five others were acquitted by the court, including a Muslim religious leader Mufti Abdul Qavi who had been embroiled in controversy with Baloch months ahead of her death.
“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.
Earlier, Baloch’s 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.
‘A band-aid on a bullet wound’
Baloch’s murder made international headlines and reignited calls for action against an epidemic of so-called “honour killings”, in which a victim is murdered for flouting social codes.
The killings are usually carried out by a close relative. Under Pakistan‘s Qisas (or blood money) and Diyat (or retribution) law, they can then seek forgiveness from a victim’s relatives.
Sanam Maher, 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 later changed their minds and said they wanted him to be forgiven.
Baloch attracted criticism and threats but was perceived by many, including young people, as breaking new ground for presenting herself as a strong figure in a bold, political act of women’s empowerment.
With additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Pakistan