MULTAN, Pakistan, July 17, (AFP): The brother of a murdered Pakistani celebrity said Sunday he is “not embarrassed” to have killed her, as Qandeel Baloch’s death reignited polarising calls for action against the “epidemic” of honour killings. The strangling of Baloch, judged by many in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan as infamous for selfies and videos that by Western standards would appear tame, has prompted shock and revulsion.
“Yes of course, I strangled her,” B a l o c h ’ s brother Muhammad Wasim told reporters at a defiant press conference organised by police in the city of Multan early Sunday. “She was on the ground floor while our parents were asleep on the roof top,” he continued. “It was around 10.45 pm when I gave her a tablet… and then killed her.” Wasim said he acted alone. “I am not embarrassed at all over what I did,” he said
“Whatever was the case, it (his sister’s behaviour) was completely intolerable.” Baloch, believed to be in her twenties and whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, was killed on Friday night at her family’s home near Multan. Her brother, arrested a day later after her father filed a police complaint against him for the killing, appeared in court briefly Sunday ahead of another hearing set for Wednesday.
Hundreds of women are murdered for “honour” every year in Pakistan. The killers overwhelmingly walk free because of a law that allows the family of the victim to forgive the murderer — who is often also a relative.
A vigil held late Saturday in Lahore was attended by dozens of mourners, while an online petition entitled “No Country for Bold Women” and demanding accountability over Baloch’s death had gained more than than 1,600 signatures Sunday.
A scathing editorial in Pakistan’s biggest English-language newspaper Dawn said her murder must serve as “impetus” for anti-honour killing legislation. It lauded Baloch for “breezily” pushing the boundaries of what Pakistan considers “acceptable” behaviour for women, saying her determination to live on her own terms was “in itself an act of courage”.
But many conservatives pushed back, with some echoing Wasim’s statement by arguing that her family would have had “no choice”. Baloch was buried early Sunday near her family home in southern Punjab. Some of Baloch’s more notorious acts included volunteering to perform a striptease for the Pakistani cricket team, and donning a plunging scarlet dress on Valentine’s Day.
She also posed for selfies with a high-profile mullah in an incident that saw him swiftly rebuked by the country’s religious affairs ministry. She told local media she had received death threats in the wake of the controversy, and that her requests for protection from authorities had been ignored. Initially dismissed as a Kim Kardashian-like figure, she was seen by some as empowered in a country where women have fought for their rights for decades. In her final Facebook post on July 4 she wrote how she was trying to “change the typical orthodox mindset of people”, and thanked her supporters for “understanding the message i (sic) try to convey through my bold posts and videos”.
“Qandeel was an extremely astute individual who knew that what she was doing was more than being the most loved bad girl of Pakistan,” columnist and activist Aisha Sarawari told AFP. Her killing “defines yet another setback for the women of our generation… This makes it harder for women. Period”. “Many in Pakistan have laid blame for her death on her bold and provocative public acts,” noted Benazir Jatoi, who works with the Aurat Foundation, a local NGO working on women’s legal and political empowerment. “Qandeel has put a face to the countless ordinary Pakistani women that are murdered because society has given carte blanche to men,” she added.