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Illustration by Abro

A young man, Shehzad Khan, was killed outside his house in Peshawar on January 11. His brother, Sheraz, lodged a complaint with Bana Mari police station, charging Shehzad's father-in-law Saeed Khan for his murder. He stated that three years ago his brother had married a girl against the will of her family members, which resulted in enmity between the two families.

Sheraz, belonging to Charsadda district, claimed that they left their village due to the enmity and settled at Kotla Mohsin Khan in Peshawar, where Mr Shehzad would run a shop. He said that they tried to settle the dispute, but fam11y members of his sister-in-law were reluctant as they considered her marriage against their honour. He charged Mr Saeed and another relative Waseem for the murder, but so far the police could not arrest them.

The infant son of Mr Shehzad is now an orphan as a result of the honour killing incident. Such incidents are frequently reported in the local media, butrarely given attention by the police, judiciary and society in general.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had claimed in its recent report that around 675 women were killed between January and September 2011 in the name of 'honour.' It stated that around 450 of these women were accused of having 'illicit relations' and 129 of marrying without permission.

Similarly, the commission reported 791 honour killings in 2010.

A rights organisation, Aurat Foundation, has early this month launched a study on honour killings in Pakistan, which focuses on legislation to counter the trend. The study, conducted by Ms Maleeha Zia advocate, shows that many cases, highlighted in media were not reported with police. In other cases, if they were reported they had not been classified as honour killing.

The study claimed that the courts usually issued verdicts in favour of killers by using the provision of 'grave and sudden provocation'. It added that responsible institutions lack the commitment to implement the law.

Legal experts dealing with criminal cases say that the Pakistan Penal Code does not contain any provision which can mitigate the offence of murder committed in the name of honour or Ghairat. The PPC was enacted in 1860. Earlier, Section 300 of the PPC contained a provision of 'grave and sudden provocation' that provided lesser punishment for crimes committed in the name of honour.Through the Qisas and Diyat law, introduced through an ordinance in 1990 and then made an act of parliament in 1997, about 40 provisions of the PPC related to bodily harm and murder were repealed and replaced with new provisions, whichthe government claimed were in accordance with the Islamic injunctions. This law covers all offences against human body and provides for Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (blood money).

Earlier, in the PPC the provision of'grave and sudden provocation' was available under Exception (1) to Section 300. The exception stated: 'Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.

While the provision was omitted from the law, still judges of superior courts of-ten extend concession to the lcillers in such cases on the same ground.

For checking the incidents of honour killing the parliament enacted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2005, through which amendments were made in some provisions of the PPC and the Criminal Procedure Code. The then government claimed of trying to check those provisions of the PPC and the CrPC which often proved helpful for the offenders in honour-related cases.

For the first time a definition of honour-related crimes has been incorporated in the PPC, which now provides: 'Offence committed in the name or on the pretext of honour means an offense committed in the name or on the pretext of Karo Kari, Sipah Kari or similar other customs or practices.

Following this amendment the courts are now bound to sentence to death or life imprisonment a person after he/she is proved guilty of murder on the pretext of honour. However, still in different cases the courts adopt lenient view towards perpetrators.

An amendment has also been made in Section 311 PPC dealing with the principle of Fasad fil Arz (mischief on earth) and the courts have been empowered to sentence a person to over10-year imprisonment in honour-related offenses. The offense shall also be considered as Fasad fil Arz.

That provision has also been rarely invoked by courts. The famous case in this regard was in 2006 when a two-member PHC bench had set aside death penalty awarded to a person for killing his wife and three daughters as the legal heirs had forgiven him.

However, the bench sentenced him to 10-year rigorous imprisonment under the principle of Fasad fil Arz.

In the judgment delivered on March 8, 2006 the court had observed that though the legal heirs of the deceased had forgiven the convict, keeping in view the brutal manner in which the killings were committed he should be sentenced under the said principle.

Legal circles believe that the legislature should remove loopholes from the law and amend provisions which go in favour of alleged killers. They believe that existing provisions of the law should also be fully implemented.