How ‘honor killings’ often go unpunished

The tale of how a pregnant Pakistani woman was publicly beaten to death earlier this week by members of her family is shedding light on the country’s struggle with “honor killings.”

The story first unfolded as such: A crowd watched outside a courthouse as the family of a pregnant Farzana Parveen beat her to death because she had married the man she loved instead of her cousin. She suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The killing was deemed an honor killing because her father, Mohammad Azeem, told police his daughter had shamed the family. “I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” police investigator Rana Mujahid quoted him as saying.

Police quickly arrested Azeem and charged him with murder. Among the others arrested include Farzana’s brothers, cousins, an uncle and an aunt.

The incident has drawn international attention, with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif calling for immediate arrests. “This crime is totally unacceptable and must be dealt with in accordance with the law,” a statement from Sharif’s office stated. The country’s chief justice has also ordered the police to take stern action against the killers.

But even arrests and charges may not lead to any punishment for the killers.

Nafisa Shah, a Parliament member, is an advocate for women’s rights in Pakistan. “Honor killings are not simply cultural acts,” she said. “They are almost sustained by a law that allows easy acquittals for murders, especially those in the name of honor.”

One of those acquittals may have included Parveen’s husband, Mohammad Iqbal.

Iqbal told The Express Tribune that the police at the scene acted as “silent spectators” and failed to save his wife. But the 45-year-old apparently told local media: “I killed my first wife — this is what paved my way to get knotted with Farzana. I was in love with Farzana.”

Iqbal, 45, was a widower with five children when he began seeing Parveen, he told the Associated Press.

According to police, he once was arrested after a complaint filed by his son but was later released after the petition was withdrawn when the dispute was settled. Muhammad Aurangzeb, Iqbal’s son, said his father had killed his mother some years ago, but police arrested his father after four years. Elders of their clan gathered and requested a compromise, and they later forgave his father.

Parveen, 25, was also married previously and had filed a suit for dissolution of her first marriage. The suit is still pending before court. Iqbal’s son told reporters that he didn’t know about Parveen’s first marriage.

Parveen was attacked as she and Iqbal were traveling to Lahore High Court to dispute charges brought by Parveen’s father that Iqbal had kidnapped Parveen, who had been engaged to her cousin for several years.

According to USA Today, last month, the private Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 869 women were victims of honor killings in 2013.

Another Pakistani rights group, the Aurat Foundation, estimates that about 1,000 Pakistani women are killed each year by their families. Reuters writes that the “true figure is probably many times higher” because the census is based only on newspaper accounts of honor killings.

The government does not compile such statistics or track the outcome of prosecutions. Convicted killers are sometimes released because the law allows a family to forgive the killer.

The Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, does not approve of honor killings or other extrajudicial murder, according to the website Questions About Islam.

“There is absolutely no justification in Islam for ‘honour killing’ of women or men. Those who commit these crimes can expect hellfire as their punishment, in addition to the wrath and anger of God.. These types of killings are quite simply murder crimes, and should be prosecuted as such...

“Therefore, although Islam does prescribe 100 lashes for fornication (sexual relations between unmarried people), and death by stoning for adultery (married people who have sexual relations outside of marriage), these punishments are not really meant to be performed as much as they are meant to make these crimes hated in the eyes of the society in order to minimize their occurrence.”

Last June, a mother and her two daughters in northern Pakistan were shot dead by a male relative who believed they had shamed the family because a video showed the young women laughing outside their home.

Michael Winter of USA Today contributed to this report.

Zahid Gishkori is a visiting journalist from Pakistan through the Alfred Friendly fellow program. To reach him, call 816-234-4333, email, or follow him on Twitter @zahidgishkori.