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Two suspects held in ‘honour-killing’ whistleblower murder case

March 09, 2019

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Residents offer funeral prayers beside the coffin of Afzal Kohistani in Battagram district on Friday.—AFP
Residents offer funeral prayers beside the coffin of Afzal Kohistani in Battagram district on Friday.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: Women’s rights activists on Friday condemned the murder of a whistleblower in a notorious “honour killing” case that has shone a years-long spotlight on female victims — and the men who defend them — in Pakistan.

Afzal Kohistani, the man who first drew attention to the infamous incident in 2012, was gunned down in Abbottabad on Wednesday, police have said.

He had pursued a case in which a local cleric order the deaths of male and female wedding guests shown enjoying themselves in a video.

Precise details remain shrouded in mystery but Kohistani had long been adamant that women shown in the video had been murdered.

Women activists condemn Afzal Kohistani’s cold-blooded murder

He was shot five times on a busy road and died on the spot, Abdul Aziz Afridi, a senior police official, told AFP.

Officials said on Friday that at least two arrests had been made.

“The perpetrators of this heinous crime will be brought to justice,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said.

Kohistani’s murder has ignited anger in Pakistan, where rights activists have long fought against the patriarchal notion of “honour”, which remains prevalent across South Asia.

Women have been shot, stabbed, stoned, set alight and strangled for bringing “shame” on their families for everything from refusing marriage proposals to wedding the “wrong” man and helping friends elope.

Men can be victims too, though it is rarer.

“Will be raising this shocking murder of Afzal Kohistani in parliament,” Senator Sherry Rehman of opposition Pakistan Peoples Party tweeted.

Rights activists participating in a march to mark International Women’s Day on Friday condemned Kohistani’s shooting.

“This incident has brought to the focus, once again, how vulnerable those that raise their voice still are,” said Benazir Jatoi, a human rights lawyer and march organiser.

Witness protection was “almost non-existent”, she added.

“Today’s march in Islam­abad will remember Afzal and other brave Pakistanis like him and we will ensure that perpetrators are held accountable,” said Ms Jatoi.

Nighat Dad, a prominent activist, tweeted: “I march because the only pursuer of seven years old Kohistani video case Afzal Kohistani was killed hours ago.”

Wedding video

The wedding video emerged in 2012, showing women clapping as two men danced in the mountainous area of Kohistan, 175km north of Islamabad.

The men and women had allegedly been in the room together, in defiance of strict tribal custom that separates men and women at weddings — though the video does not show them together.

A local cleric sentenced several women and men to death over the video.

Afzal Kohistani is believed to have been related to some of the men in the video.

His entire family were banished from Kohistan as a result. He took the rare step of pushing the case before the media and the justice system.

The Supreme Court lau­­­nched a commission to investigate — but in June 2012 was told the women had never been murdered at all.

A fact-finding team met women who were purportedly those shown in the video and said they were alive.

But Kohistani insisted that the women shown to the fact-finding officials were different women, and that the death sentences had been carried out.

Three more men — Kohistani’s brothers — were later killed by a rival family. A court convicted six of their killings in 2014.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019