PML-N to pass law against honour killings following Qandeel’s murder, says Maryam
Reuters — Updated Jul 21, 2016 12:12pm
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz plans to pass long-delayed legislation against “honour killings” within weeks in the wake of the high-profile murder of outspoken social media star Qandeel Baloch, the daughter of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Wednesday.
The bill will go before a parliamentary committee as early as Thursday, said Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who is an increasingly influential member of her father’s ruling party.
The government has faced mounting pressure to pass the law against murders carried out by people professing to be acting in defence of the honour of their family.
The law would remove a loophole that allows other family members to pardon a killer.
The brother of social media star Qandeel Baloch has been arrested in connection with her strangling death and told a news conference he was incensed by her often risque posts on social media.
Also read: Qandeel Baloch is dead because we hate women who don’t conform
Some 500 women are killed each year in Pakistan at the hands of family members over perceived damage to “honour” that can involve eloping, fraternising with men or any other infraction against conservative values that govern women’s modesty.
Maryam Nawaz said the government wanted to pass the law unanimously and had been negotiating with religious parties in parliament.
“We have finalised the draft law in the light of negotiations,” she told Reuters in an interview.
“The final draft will be presented to a committee of joint session of parliament on July 21 for consideration and approval.”
Maryam said once the parliamentary committee approved the bill, it would be presented for a vote in a “couple of weeks” before a joint session of parliament.
Know more: Isn’t Qandeel Baloch’s murder as ‘un-Islamic’ as Zeenat Bibi’s?
A spokesman for Jamaat-i-Islami, one of the two major religious parties in parliament, said his party would not oppose the bill.
The country’s other main religious political party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, could not be reached for comment but it has only a small number of seats in parliament.
Both religious parties have traditionally opposed legislation empowering women.
The upper house of parliament passed the bill in 2015 but it lapsed after the government failed to put it up for a vote in the lower house because it was preoccupied with legislation aimed at tackling security problems and economic reforms.
A senior government official told Reuters all major parties were now backing the bill and it was likely to be passed in a few weeks by a joint session of parliament.
“The prime minister is taking personal interest,” added a second official and close aide to Sharif.
“You will see in coming days more will be done, big changes will be announced.”
In a rare move, this week the government became a complainant in the police case against Qandeel’s brother accused of her murder, designating it a crime against the state and thereby blocking her family from forgiving their son.
Right to forgive
Qandeel had long divided opinion with her social media photos and posts.
She was unapologetic about pushing the boundaries of acceptability for women and changing “the typical orthodox mindset” of her audience.
Many viewed her as a disgrace to cultural values while others hailed her as a “feminist icon”.
She ran into political controversy last month after her “selfie” photographs with Mufti Qavi went viral, leading to him being fired from the Ruet-i-Hilal committee.
After her death, Mutfi Qavi told media that her murder should serve as an example for others who tried to malign the clergy.
Qavi is being investigated for her murder along with Qandeel’s two brothers.
Although government officials appeared confident of backing for the bill in parliament, it could still face resistance.
The influential Council of Islamic Ideology, which advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, warned that it would not support any law that removed the forgiveness loophole, even though the council considers honour killings a crime.
“Islamic law and the Quran say that the right to forgive or punish lies first and foremost with the victim’s family,” said council spokesman Inam Ullah.
“So if this bill is trying to completely take away that right from the family, then of course that is against Islamic teachings. The state cannot completely take away that right from the family.”
The religious parties and the council hold significant influence over public opinion and the government fears a backlash if any law passes without their approval.
“This mentality — that you can get away with murder in the name of honour — it has to be done away with,” said Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on honour killings “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” won an Oscar this year.
“I am hopeful that this law will pass but the change in mindset will talk so much longer... I think Qandeel Baloch’s murder is the tipping point.”
Editorial — Updated Jul 22, 2016 11:20am
Yesterday’s developments offer a sliver of hope where preventing violence against women is concerned.
A parliamentary committee reached a consensus on the long-pending anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills that will shortly be submitted to a joint session of parliament for voting.
The renewed prospect of such legislation being enacted, mentioned by Maryam Nawaz in an interview less than a week after the shocking murder of Qandeel Baloch, is a welcome step.
The PML-N faces mounting pressure — both domestic and international — to address the lacunae in the law pertaining to honour killing that makes it difficult for perpetrators to be punished.
In fact, with activists, legislators and the media relentlessly highlighting atrocities against women and demanding justice for the hundreds of women and girls who die at the hands of family members every year in Pakistan, it is surprising the ruling party has waited so long to reform the law.
Perhaps Qandeel’s death has proven to be the catalyst for the government to act.
It was March when the prime minister had pledged amendments to the law so that perpetrators of honour killings could no longer be ‘forgiven’ by family members, thereby making the offence a non-compoundable one.
However, when the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill and the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill — tabled by a PPP senator in 2014 and passed by the Senate in 2015 — were presented in a joint parliamentary session that same month, elements from the religious lobby objected, saying they were contrary to Islamic injunctions.
Since then there has been no headway, at least until this point. Pandering to the right-wing over an issue of utmost gravity must now end and the impunity associated with the crime done away with.
When more than 500 women are killed each year by family members over perceived transgressions of ‘honour’, the state must urgently send the message that those who are guilty of such murders merit the severest punishment and lengthy jail terms.
As the Supreme Court Bar Association fact-finding mission investigating the suspicious death in June of 19-year-old Maria Sadaqat stated, “the accused finds much sympathy … in the criminal justice system.”
The legislature must not only pass both draft bills on schedule but closely monitor their implementation, including ensuring watertight investigation of crimes against women so that justice is done.
The criminal justice system must dispense punishment that is commensurate with the crime.