07/21/2016, 18.03
PAKISTAN
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Church and Pakistani activists call for swift law against ‘honour killings’

by Shafique Khokhar

Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter calls on parliament to legislate after the murder of Qandeel Baloch, a famous model and blogger who was killed by her brother to cleanse the family’s lost honour. A bill against honour killings has been languishing in parliament for years. However, for Muslim teacher, such a law would “make an already complicated issue even more complicated.”

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A wave of outrage has swept the world following the murder of Pakistani model Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled by her brother to restore their family’s honour. As a result of her death, Pakistan’s government plans to speed up a law against so-called honour killings.

For years, the Catholic Church of Pakistan has been fighting for the protection of women.

"We have been waiting for strict legislation for years,” said Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, head of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.

“Law makers themselves are divided. There is no political will. But the biggest problem is that there is no implementation,” he added.

“It is never too late,” said diocesan program coordinator/head operations at Caritas Pakistan Rojar Randhawa. “Finally, the government of Pakistan has decided to pass law against honor killing.”

“We as nation must stand with the government on this in order to give protection to a vulnerable group in this male-dominated society."

Qandeel Baloch, 26, was a famous Pakistani model, blogger and youtuber. Her videos were viewed millions of times around the world.

However, her uninhibited behaviour drew sharp criticism from those who saw is as a disgrace to Islamic values. Others hailed her as a ‘female icon’ who sought to undermine Pakistan’s traditional view of women, and the country’s male chauvinist mentality.

She always provoked mixed reactions, but criticism hit a high few weeks ago when she posted a selfie of herself and a Muslim cleric (pictured).

Condemnation from Islamic organisations seem to have triggered her brother’s murderous reaction. The cleric in question is also being investigated for complicity.

Yesterday, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announced that the bill on honour killings, in parliament for years, will be brought forward. Adopted by the upper house in 2014, it has held back in the lower house.

Ms Sharif said that the law will be approved within two weeks and has already obtained support from the spokesman of the Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two main Islamist parties.

Conversely, the Council for Islamic ideology, which recently pushed for law to allow husbands to mildly beat their wives, remains against the bill.

The practice of honour killings is widespread in Pakistan. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 1,100 women were killed last year.

The issue comes the fore whenever there is some particularly gruesome case that provokes outrage.

For years, the Catholic Church in Pakistan has fought against the practice.

“Nobody has the right to kill; nobody is above the law. In our patriarchal society, men commit some of the worst acts but that does not put honour of their homes in question,” said Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani.

Some activists note that laws that punish violence against women already exist.

“We already have 99 laws that protect women,” said Naseem George, director Aezaz-e-Niswan Development Organisation. Thus, “Serious work should be done to remove hurdles in providing justice to women.”

“Baloch had bought a house for her poor parents. Her life was going smoothly until she exposed a corrupt cleric,” George noted.

“Legal protections against such crimes do not always translate into actual protection of the law. Safeguards therefore need to be backed by social and educational processes that can be initiated immediately,” said Mr. Peter Jacob, a well-known human rights activist and director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

However, not everyone is convinced. Hamza Arshad, a Muslim teacher and researcher, wonders why have “a separate law for so-called honour killings, which could create confusion with respect to ‘regular’ killings. This law could make an already complicated issue even more complicated.”

“The message should be murder is murder. If the government wants to do something, it should repeal Islamic laws.”

 (Kamran Chaudhry contributed to this article)

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