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A brave voice

Updated March 09, 2019

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WITH the brazen murder of Afzal Kohistani, the main petitioner in the infamous Kohistan video scandal, a courageous voice has been tragically silenced. Afzal was shot dead in Abbottabad on Thursday evening by “unidentified gunmen” who escaped from the scene.

The murder comes weeks after Afzal demanded that law enforcement provide security to protect him from rivals who were threatening to kill him. He ominously spoke of a jirga which allegedly planned to kill him; he even said the Hazara police should be held responsible if something were to happen to him.

Know more: Kohistan girls case remains a mystery

Known to rights activists and the media as the central character who exposed the Kohistan jirga case — the alleged murder of eight boys and girls by members of their tribe after a mobile phone video of them at a wedding in a remote Kohistan village emerged on social media — Afzal was an unflinching advocate for justice, who challenged the violent tribal tradition of ‘honour’ killings to bring the suspects to task.

The brother of one of the boys in the video, Afzal made the news public, alleging that the girls had been killed in 2012 on the orders of a cleric. Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had taken suo motu notice of the case the same year and constituted a fact-finding mission which stated after investigations that the girls in the video were alive. Afzal, however, maintained they were dead and that false testimonies had been given.

His fearlessness and conviction finally bore fruit when a fresh case was registered last year, leading to the arrest of three suspects who confessed to killing the girls. But despite all his efforts to uncover a brutal murder, the state failed Afzal Kohistani. Despite court orders for his security, he was brutally gunned down in a bustling street by those who wish to silence voices that speak out against regressive traditions and senseless violence.

Afzal’s life — which is an inspiring lesson of perseverance in a society where self-righteous elements can kill over a self-created honour code — must not be eclipsed by his brutal murder. The KP government must launch a sincere probe into his killing, and also investigate why he was not provided with security despite the threats he was receiving. Those who orchestrated his murder and that of the girls and boys in the video are enemies of a free-thinking and progressive society, and must not be protected or ignored at any cost.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019