"Honour killings" in Pakistan: Bloody tale of horror continues

Every year hundreds of women are murdered in Pakistan in so-called "honour killings" for bringing shame to their families. The problem is the subject of a film by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy that was awarded Best Documentary in the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Peshawar, Pakistan (dpa) – Fayyaz Khan woke up one cold morning in January 2015 to find his younger sister and her three children had been killed, apparently by her husband, in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar.

His sister Bakhmina, 25, had married Umra Afridi 10 years earlier, but the husband became suspicious that she was having an affair, finally apparently slitting her throat to preserve his "honour."

"It was horrible for us," said Fayyaz, showing the photographs on his mobile phone of his slain sister and her children lying in a pool of blood.

So-called honour killings are widespread in Pakistan, where women are killed by male relatives for having sexual relations outside marriage, even rape, in the belief it removes the stigma on the family.

Khan's family has been particularly hard hit by the practice. Less than a year earlier in late 2014, another of his sisters, Sadia, was killed, also by her own husband.

He accused his 26-year-old wife of having an affair with one of his cousins and allegedly killed them both.

Fayyaz, 32, and his brother Imran Khan, 24, have been left with responsibility for Sadia’s four children on their meager incomes as cab drivers.

If the brothers have been left reeling, their elderly mother has been overcome by grief.

“She has almost lost her senses,” Fayyaz Khan said. “Life has become so difficult, so painful for us.”

Across Pakistan, more than 1,000 women were murdered on the pretext of honour in 2014, up from 800 in 2010, according to the country's Human Rights Commission.

The problem is the theme of a documentary by award-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Her latest documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness highlights how murderers use an Islamic provision in the law that allows family members to forgive the culprit.

Activists say family members, and survivors of attempted killings, come under social pressure to publicly absolve the perpetrators and avoid any criminal trial.

The film won an Oscar for best short documentary at the Academy Awards on Sunday.

Obaid-Chinoy had already won an Oscar in 2012 for her documentary Saving Face, on the plight of acid attack victims in Pakistan.

Her latest work has already achieved more than she might have expected.

“I wanted the movie to generate a debate in Pakistani society about difficult questions like honour killing,” Obaid-Chinoy told dpa, a few days before the Academy Awards.

And that is exactly what has been happening.

The film was premiered at the Prime Minister's Secretariat in the capital Islamabad where Premier Nawaz Sharif promised to close the loopholes.

“There is no honour in killing,” Sharif said at the premiere, “This is unacceptable and we will eradicate this practice.”

Sharif’s legal advisers have already started working to make the law to amend the provision that allows relatives to forgive the murders.

The new law would leave it to the courts to decide whether to accept a deal between the complainant and killer, Sharif’s legal adviser Zafarullah Khan said.

But legal practitioners say this may not be enough to solve the problem.

"This will still be a loophole," said Rizwan Khan, a lawyer based in Islamabad. "Unless the clause of forgiveness is totally removed, murderers can skip the punishment."

Activists agree. "Because the perpetrators so seldom see the consequences ... the communities think honour killings are the right thing to do," said Rabeea Hadi of the Aurat Foundation, a women's rights group.

Back in Peshawar, the Khan family has no thoughts of forgiveness and is fighting for justice in the courts, but progress is slow.

The husband of Sadia was arrested and his trial is under way but Bakhmina's husband Afridi is still on the run.

Fayyaz Khan said they would not forgive the murders but feared Sadia's husband might escape punishment using his “piles of money” to bribe police and court officials.

If he does, and if Bakhmina's killer is not caught, neither Obaid-Chinoy's Oscar win nor Pakistan's new law will be of much consolation to them.

Last update: Mon, 29/02/2016 - 10:26

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