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Pakistani Bill To Combat 'Honor Killings' Wins Committee Approval

Qandeel Baloch
Qandeel Baloch

A joint committee from both houses of Pakistan's parliament has unanimously backed legislation against so-called honor killings in a rekindled effort to end a practice that is blamed for hundreds of young women's deaths every year in the predominantly Muslim country.

The fresh legislative impetus follows the high-profile killing this week of a social-media celebrity whose brother publicly confessed to strangling her for allegedly bringing shame to the family.

Women's rights groups, activists, and politicians have been calling on Pakistan's government for years to introduce tougher laws to tackle the problem.

But the killing of outspoken 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch on July 16 sparked fresh demands that the government deliver the long-awaited legislation to protect Pakistani women.

Voting on the bill is expected within weeks.

Baloch had been dubbed by some Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, a reference to the exhibitionist American beauty with nearly 47 million followers on Twitter. Baloch frequently posted racy photos and videos that drew the ire of conservative Pakistanis.

On social media, Baloch described herself as a "self-dependent" woman and said "absolutely nothing" would stop her from fighting to reach her goals.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and an influential member of the ruling conservative Pakistan Muslim League (N), suggested after Baloch's killing that a parliamentary committee could debate the "honor-killing" bill as early as July 21.

Key Loophole

The proposal would remove a key loophole that allows a victim's family to pardon a killer, paving the way to escape legal punishment.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says nearly 1,100 such "honor crimes" were committed against women in 2015, over perceived damage to the family's honor.

In one her last posts, Baloch called on women to stand up for each other.

Just weeks before her slaying, Baloch posted video and images with prominent Muslim cleric Abdul Qavi -- allegedly taken in a Karachi hotel room -- which went viral. Among other things, she had taken Qavi to task for breaking the Ramadan fast during their meeting.

Baloch, whose real name was Fawzia Azeem, was found dead in her family home in the city of Multan.

Baloch's 25-year-old brother Muhammad Waseem was detained and confessed to her killing, saying Baloch had "dishonored the family" by posting "shameful" photos, including the Qavi images.

Police say the cleric is a part of the probe into Baloch's killing, along with Waseem and another of Baloch's brothers.

In a rare move, the government vowed it was barring Baloch's family from pardoning the sons.

After her death, Baloch's father filed a police report against both his sons. The father said Baloch was the family's breadwinner and financially "supported all of us, including my son who killed her."

Unanimous Approval?

Pakistan's ruling PML-N party, which has a majority in the lower house of the parliament, has suggested the bill could receive unanimous approval despite likely objections among lawmakers from religiously conservative parties.

The ruling party had been negotiating with religious parties in parliament, Maryam Nawaz Sharif told Reuters.

A spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two major religious parties in parliament, told Reuters that his party would not oppose the bill. Pakistan's other main religious political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, has only a small number of legislative seats.

The religious parties' backing could prove important for the government in the event of a backlash from conservative clerics and their supporters.

The influential Council of Islamic Ideology, an advisory body to the government, has warned that it would not support any law that removed the forgiveness loophole.

Although the council has said it considers honor killings a crime, it says the bill disregards Islamic laws that stipulate the right to forgive or punish lies first and foremost with the victim's family.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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