WHEN the man guilty of perhaps the most high-profile ‘honour killing’ in the country walks free, what message does that send to those who believe that women who do not abide by ‘accepted’ social norms deserve to be put to death?

The acquittal of Mohammed Wasim in the 2016 murder of his sister, Qandeel Baloch, is a travesty. Soon after the murder, he had confessed to having drugged and strangled the social media star at her home. In the full glare of TV cameras, he claimed he had slain his sister for “having brought dishonour to the Baloch name” with the risqué images of herself that she posted on social media. In fact, he wore the blood on his hands with pride, saying he was not in the least ashamed of what he had done.

In September 2019, a court sentenced Wasim to life in prison, having found that the prosecution had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge exercised his discretion as allowed under the law to sentence him to prison regardless of the fact that the parents of the accused had forgiven him by then — something often, outrageously enough, sufficient to allow murderers to walk free.

Soon after Qandeel’s murder, which sparked outrage across the country, legislators had passed an amendment to the law. The amendment was an attempt to close the loophole whereby the perpetrator of an honour killing could evade punishment, because the crime, like other types of murder, is a compoundable offence — meaning a crime where a compromise could be effected between the victim’s heirs and the culprit. Given that in honour killings, the families of the victim and perpetrator are the same, this is contrary to the very notion of justice.

Under the new law, if there is no compromise or the judge rejects the compromise, a mandatory life sentence is to be imposed. That was an improvement on the earlier law, but clearly, as the latest development shows, it did not go far enough. The outcome in such cases remains unpredictable and the relevant law needs further revision.

The reasoning given by the LHC in its verdict acquitting Wasim includes the following: “No doubt that in the last line [of the confession] he gave a reason of murder of his sister … but still it does not mean that murder was on the pretext of honour killing as the same was not specifically pleaded by the appellant in his alleged confession.”

The government has announced it is “reviewing options” in light of the acquittal. Perhaps it is time for legislators to consider making deliberate murder, whether on the pretext of honour or not, a non-compoundable offence. Only then will those with money and clout be prevented from walking free after taking a life. Surely there must be a price to pay for this most awful of crimes.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022

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