Brother of murdered Pakistani social media star sentenced to life

Monday, September 30, 2019

On Friday in Pakistan, Mohammed Waseem, brother of social media personality and feminist Qandeel Baloch, was sentenced for her murder to life in prison by a court in Multan. Waseem confessed to killing his sister by strangling her in 2016 in what has widely been called an honor killing. She was 26.

Qandeel Baloch in 2016
Image: Qandeel Baloch. (Reuse terms.)

Baloch and Waseem's mother, Anwar, wept upon hearing her son had been convicted and said she believed he was innocent. In August, the parents tried to have Waseem released by saying they forgave him for the killing. Until recently, Pakistani law allowed the perpetrators of honor killings to go unpunished if forgiven by the victim's family.

Even though Waseem confessed to acting alone, several alleged accomplices, including Muslim cleric Mufti Abdul Qawi, were tried by the same court. All, including Qawi, were acquitted. Baloch was murdered a few weeks after publicly posting pictures of herself with Qawi on the Internet, and Qawi drew criticism for associating with her. Qawi was later accused of inciting the murder in some way, which he denied. Some of Qawi's supporters threw flower petals as he was leaving the courthouse.

Waseem appeared in a news conference after his 2016 arrest in which he expressed no regret for his sister's death and specifically mentioned family honor. He has since said his initial confession was forced.

"As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women we must stand up for each other[,]" Baloch wrote on social media shortly before her death. "I believe I am a modern day feminist."

Qandeel Baloch made videos and social media posts depicting her dancing, singing, lying in bed or, on one occasion, offering to disrobe if Pakistan defeated India in a then-upcoming cricket match, all of which are considered controversial for women in Pakistan.

When Baloch was born, about 250 miles (400 km) southwest of Lahore, she was Fouzia Azeem, daughter to a poor farming family. At the time of her murder, Qandeel Baloch, nicknamed the "Kim Kardashian of Pakistan," had about 750,000 followers on Facebook, and wrote about feminism. In an interview with Dawn, she said as a teenager she was forced into an abusive marriage by her family. She also said that her much-older husband attempted to disfigure her with acid. Baloch ran away from the marriage to a shelter with her son but later returned the boy to her husband when she could not support him.

Since Baloch's death, Pakistan's laws about honor killings have changed. Though the accused can still avoid the death penalty if forgiven by the victim's family, the minimum prison sentence for the crime even if forgiven is now 25 years. Waseem is eligible to appeal.