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Long road to justice?

Three years down the road, Qandeel Baloch’s case hangs in the balance, calling into question the roles of the family and the state in seeking justice for victims of ‘honour’ crime in a patriarchal society

Long road to justice?

Qandeel Baloch’s parents, Mohammad Azeem Khan, 80, and Anwar Bibi, 69 say they are dependent on their children to make the ends meet. Azeem Khan, who is physically impaired, contracted tuberculosis a decade ago. In the past, he says, it was Qandeel who supported them. He says it is his son, her murderer, who can take on the role of the family’s breadwinner.

“Only Waseem can earn a living and feed us,” Anwar Bibi tells TNS.

“Qandeel’s parents want to wind up this case now,” says Safdar Shah, counsel for Mohammad Azeem Khan and Anwar Bibi. “This is what they [her parents] want. Her parents are faced with starvation. They do not want further litigation,” he adds.

“How can we afford a lawyer when we are starving?” Qandeel’s parents ask.

Two weeks ago, they stated in the court that they had pardoned only their sons, but not the other suspects in this murder case. “The court has yet to decide on our plea. The court said that it would take this pardon plea once the trial was concluded, meaning that the judgement in the [honour] killing case would be given after statements of all witnesses are recorded,” Safdar Shah tells TNS.

Mohammad Waseem told the police he had strangled Qandeel Baloch in 2016 at their home in Shah Sadar Din for bringing dishonour to the family with her risque Facebook photos and videos. In August 2019, Baloch’s parents announced a pardon for their sons: Mohammad Waseem and his accomplices Aslam Shaheen and Mohammad Arif.

The affidavit submitted by the parents through their lawyer Safdar Shah states that the Anti-Honour Killing Law (Criminal Amendment Act) 2015 — which prevents killers from walking free even though pardoned by the victim’s family — was passed in October 2016, months after Qandeel Baloch was strangled. The petition maintains that the law does not apply in this particular case.

Qandeel Baloch’s brother-in-law Javed Rind, in an interview with TNS in October 2016, threatened that he would kill Azeem Khan if he did not withdraw the case against Mohammad Waseem. He had asserted that Qandeel had tarnished their family’s name and had justified her murder as a ‘logical’ end.

The Anti-Honour Killing Law (Criminal Amendment Act) 2015 sets life term as punishment for honour killings cases. However, the law did leave categorisation of a crime as an honour crime to the discretion of the judge.

Mohammad Azeem Khan and Anwar Bibi had told police soon after the murder on July 16, 2016, that their daughter had been killed in the name of honour. Anwar Bibi argued that the court should punish the other accused, Haq Nawaz in particular. She also wanted police to re-investigate the role of Mufti Abdul Qawi, adding, “all those including Mufti [Qawi] who incited the killers must be investigated and punished”. She told TNS on Monday, “I would be happy to see them punished by the court.”

However, Qandeel Baloch’s lawyer tells TNS that the parents have yet to get their final statement recorded before the court.

Neighbours say there is pressure on Qandeel’s parents to end the case as soon as possible. “The residents of Basti Marrha have made it clear to Azeem Khan that they will not let him live here if he fails to get his son released,” says Mehboob Marrha, a local wadera from Shah Saddar Din. “The case brought a bad name not only to the family but also to the whole Basti Marrha,” he adds. The strained relationships between Azeem’s family and local tribesmen have contributed to the parents submitting their pardon documents before the court, he says.

Qandeel Baloch’s brother-in-law Javed Rind, in an interview with TNS in October 2016, threatened that he would kill Azeem Khan if he did not withdraw the case against Mohammad Waseem. He had asserted that Qandeel had tarnished their family’s name and had justified her murder as a ‘logical’ end.

Rights activist Nighat Dad says, “It is the responsibility of the state to take this case forward and to ensure that the burdens that Qandeel’s parents cannot bear are borne by the state instead.”

The family’s lawyer, Safdar Shah has argued that Qandeel Baloch’s murder did not fall in ‘honour killing’ category. He has requested the court to acquit the suspects under Section 345 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Safdar Shah had told TNS in 2016 that the only point that favoured his client was that “the state had become a complainant in Qandeel’s murder case which bars family from pardoning killers”.

The police added Sections 311 and 305 of the PPC to the First Information Report of this case. Section 305 of the PPC maintains the ‘wali’ will be the heirs of the victim, but will exclude the accused or convict in case of qatl-i-amd (wilful murder), if committed in the name or on the pretext of honour. Section 311 refers to the legal proceedings following the waiver or the compounding of right of qisas in wilful murder.

Qandeel Baloch’s parents.

Qandeel Baloch’s parents.

Lawyer Asad Jamal says that the helplessness of the aggrieved is an important reason why they succumb to pressure for granting pardon or agree to an out of court settlement. “If Qandeel Baloch’s old parents have no other means of sustenance, this could be a good reason for them to forgive the murderer,” he tells TNS. Jamal notes that “parents’ assertion in the application that it wasn’t a case of honour killing cannot be the sole reason for acquittal as a result of pardon.”

When asked about the impact in case the court accepts parents’ pardon plea, Jamal responds, “I think it will send a very negative message to all when even in a high-profile case like this one, in which government ostensibly took keen interest, the accused get around the law easily… then the offenders should not worry at all.”

Rights activist Nighat Dad says, “It is the responsibility of the state to take this case forward and to ensure that the burdens that Qandeel’s parents cannot bear are borne by the state instead.”

The notes that the proposition has not been accepted by the court as yet. What is needed at the moment is education about the laws regarding honour killings in Pakistan, she adds. The fact that the question of pardon has been raised at this stage is extremely disappointing.”

She is of the view that Qandeel’s case has been an exemplary case for women across Pakistan fighting the patriarchal strongholds in our society. Many women in the country have their hopes tied to the case and are looking for justice since the case has assumed a symbolic value, she says.

Dad also says that Qandeel’s case is a classic example of how access to justice is limited for those without influence. Justice should ideally be blind, however Qandeel’s parents’ poverty is among factors impacting their ability to pursue their case. She adds, “I was very hopeful about Qandeel’s case in the beginning and thought that a precedent would be set for future cases with this particular case. That hasn’t happened yet because of delays in court hearings and the poor state of law enforcement,” she says.

Zahid Gishkori

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The writer is Special Investigative Correspondent currently associated with Geo Television Network in Islamabad.

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