A weak Judicial System has led to an increase of Honor Killings in Kohistan

The Kohistan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has once again drawn media attention due to a grave incident of what is referred to as “honor killing”. On February 22nd, a distressing act of violence was reported in the village of Burparo, where a young woman and man were fatally shot. Subsequently, it is alleged that the male victim’s body was subjected to further desecration.

The First Information Report (FIR) lodged at the Koz Paro Police Station outlines that law enforcement was alerted to the murder of a male and female in the Burparo locality on the aforementioned date. Upon their arrival, authorities discovered the remains of Obaidullah, also known as Koko, son of Maulvi Hakeem Khan, and Blue Bibi, daughter of Anjeel, in a grievous state.

Investigative reports indicate that Obaidullah’s body was found in the snow close to a residence, while Blue Bibi’s was located within the dwelling.

This heinous act of violence has led to the registration of a case by SHO Muhammad Javed of the Koz Paro Police Station. The complaint implicates the two brothers of the deceased woman, Muhammad Islam, and Sher Baz, along with their father Anjeel, citing illicit relations as the purported motive behind the killings.

The Station House Officer (SHO) has verified that the tragic event constitutes an “honor killing”. Ubaidullah, hailing from the village of Ghato Sharakot, purportedly visited Blue Bibi in Burparo, during which it is alleged that the young woman’s father, Anjeel, and her brother, Muhammad Islam, fatally assaulted both individuals.

A person under the pseudonym Muhammad Sulaiman, who resides in Sharakot and is closely related to the victims, criticized the police response to the incident. He contends that the authorities displayed a lack of urgency, noting that the suspects initially confined the young man within a room of their residence and proceeded to summon relatives, yet, according to him, police intervention was delayed, resulting in the deaths of both Ubaidullah and Blue Bibi.

The District Public Prosecutor for Kolai Police in Kohistan, Hussain Ahmad, informed that the three suspects were apprehended and subsequently placed under a five-day physical remand as of Wednesday.

While acknowledging a rise in honor killings in the region, he points to the proliferation of mobile phones as a contributing factor. It is remarked that, within Kohistan, social norms strongly disapprove of women engaging in communication with unrelated males, a practice believed to be a catalyst for such grievous incidents.

The District Public Prosecutor has highlighted a significant challenge in prosecuting cases of homicide labeled as “honor killings”, noting that the First Information Reports (FIRs) filed in such instances often lack substantial evidence, and witness testimonies are scarce. This scarcity is attributed to a prevailing communal sympathy towards the accused, coupled with a general reluctance to see them penalized. Such dynamics frequently result in the acquittal of suspects.

In the past four months, this remote district of Kolai Pals Kohistan has witnessed the loss of three human lives across separate incidents attributed to honor-related motives. Notably, there was an incident where a young woman narrowly escaped an attempt on her life, marking a rare deviation from the fatal outcomes typically associated with such cases in Kohistan.

The district of Kolai Pals Kohistan in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa garnered significant media attention in 2012 due to an incident of honor killings linked to a video showing young men dancing and young women clapping. This incident tragically resulted in the death of four girls.

Subsequently, Afzal Kohistani, who brought the matter to the attention of both media and judicial authorities, along with three of his brothers, were brazenly murdered in Abbottabad. Following these murders, the case seemingly receded from public and legal scrutiny. Meanwhile, two individuals who appeared in the controversial video have since been living clandestinely.

An official from the Pals Police Station, who preferred to remain anonymous, disclosed that there had been allegations of a family in Pals plotting to take the life of a young woman after she was observed speaking on the phone in October of the previous year. It was reported that several local women intervened to assist the girl, enabling her to escape her household and seek refuge at a police checkpoint.

The official further detailed that despite pursuit by individuals from her community, law enforcement successfully secured the young woman’s safety, initially escorting her to the police station and subsequently facilitating her appearance before a court. The court then made arrangements for her transfer to Dar-ul-Aman, a haven for those at risk.

In a separate account of violence, the same official recounted an incident wherein maliciously altered photographs depicting a young woman with young men were circulated on Facebook, an act motivated by personal vendetta. Following this, the woman’s family convened a jirga, which culminated in the tragic decision to end her life. There were also plans to target the implicated young man, however, police intervention led to the arrest of the involved parties, who were then incarcerated.

Farzana Bari, serving as the head of the Judicial Commission at the time and a supporter of Afzal Kohistani during the Kohistan video scandal, conveyed her concerns regarding the effective absence of state authority in these regions, coupled with the fragility of the judicial system.

She articulated that both she and Afzal Kohistani had exerted every conceivable effort in addressing the video scandal, which subsequently led to a marginal reduction in the incidents of honor killings in Kohistan.

Farzana Bari highlighted a disconcerting development where individuals accused of taking eight lives were acquitted a few years back, sending a detrimental message to the community that, regardless of the severity of their actions, these offenders remain beyond the reach of punitive measures. This perception, she noted, perpetuates the adherence to traditional practices associated with honor killings in Kohistan.

She further observed that the recurrence of such criminals to societal life, often shortly after their incarceration, emboldens them to target those who oppose their actions, as evidenced in the case of Afzal Kohistani. Bari expressed grave concerns over the inefficacies within the judicial system, attributing it as a catalyst for the alarming rise in such incidents within the region.

Human rights advocate and attorney Iman Mazari said that to curtail incidents such as honor killings, it is imperative for the state to actively participate and ensure justice for victims through legal reforms. She posited that only through the dispensation of justice to victims and the imposition of penalties on perpetrators can such incidents be diminished.

Mazari emphasized the necessity of societal attitude shifts alongside the enforcement of laws, arguing that taking a life cannot be deemed a solution to any issue. She underscored the critical need for heightened awareness to address this grave concern.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that in the year 2022 alone, a total of 103 individuals were victimized by honor killings across various locales within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

HRCP Chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt has called upon state entities to assume a proactive stance in halting the escalation of honor killings within Kohistan and to ensure that offenders are duly prosecuted.

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