A pregnant woman was stoned to death by her own family in front of a Pakistani high court on Tuesday for marrying the man she loved.
Nearly 20 members of the woman’s family, including her father and brothers, attacked her and her husband with batons and bricks in broad daylight before a crowd of onlookers in front of the high court of Lahore, the police investigator Rana Mujahid said.
Hundreds of women are murdered every year in Muslim-majority Pakistan in so-called ” honour killings” – carried out by husbands or relatives as a punishment for alleged adultery or other illicit sexual behaviour – but public stoning is extremely rare.
Mujahid said the woman’s father has been arrested for murder and that police were working to apprehend all those who participated in the “heinous crime”.
Another police officer, Naseem Butt, identified the slain woman as Farzana Parveen, 25, and said she had married Mohammad Iqbal against her family’s wishes after being engaged to him for years.
Her father, Mohammad Azeem, had filed an abduction case against Iqbal, which the couple was contesting, her lawyer Mustafa Kharal said. He confirmed that she was three months pregnant.
Arranged marriages are the norm among conservative Pakistanis, who view marriage for love as a transgression.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private group, said in a report last month that some 869 women were murdered in “honour killings” in 2013.
But even Pakistanis who have tracked violence against women expressed shock at the brutal and public nature of Tuesday’s killing.
“I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed in front of a court,” said Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist.
He said Pakistanis who commit violence against women are often acquitted or handed light sentences because of poor police work and faulty prosecutions.
“Either the family does not pursue such cases or police don’t properly investigate. As a result, the courts either award light sentences to the attackers, or they are acquitted,” he said.
Parveen’s relatives had waited outside the court, which is located on a main downtown thoroughfare. As the couple walked up to the main gate, the family members fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her from Iqbal, her lawyer said.
When she resisted, her father, brothers and other relatives started beating her, eventually pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site, Iqbal said.
Iqbal, 45, said he started seeing Parveen after the death of his first wife, with whom he had five children.
“We were in love,” he told the Associated Press. He alleged that the woman’s family wanted to swindle money from him before marrying her off.
“I simply took her to court and registered a marriage,” infuriating the family, he said.
Parveen’s father surrendered after the incident and called the murder an “honour killing”, Butt said.
“I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” Mujahid, the police investigator, quoted the father as saying.
Mujahid said the woman’s body had been handed over to her husband for burial.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) organized the first screening in continental Europe of the film, Honor Diaries, in order to help highlight the widespread violence that women suffer around the world in the name of “honour”.
A short of the film was screened at the UN Human Rights Council this week—with IHEU in association with the US Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the British Humanist Association (BHA)—in order to help raise awareness of the number of women subjected to honour violence and the nature of that violence, and to foster further discussion at the UN.
Honor Diaries gives a platform to exclusively female voices and seeks to expose the paralyzing political correctness that prevents many from identifying, understanding and addressing this international human rights disaster.
Trailer for Honor Diaries
“Honour-based violence is understood to derive from a desire to control the behaviour of the female, with the honour of a family vested in her body,” said Elizabeth O’Casey, IHEU’s head of delegation at Geneva. “Ultimately, such an interpretation of honour is grounded in an objectification of the woman, with the honour of a family vested in her body. Freedom of movement, the right to education, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and honour killings are some of the systematic abuses explored in depth.”
The UN has estimated that 5,000 women are murdered by family members each year in “honour killings” but according to women’s advocacy groups the figure could be around 20,000.
The film Honor Diaries has been shown across North America and in the UK, but IHEU’s screening was the first time it was taken to continental Europe.
The screening was followed by an enthusiastic and positive panel discussion between different actors and experts within the field, and the film’s producer, Paula Kweskin, and one of the women featured in the film, as well as a CFI delegate to the UN, Raheel Raza. The need to keep on pushing in forums such as the UN Human Rights Council and support civil society in their attempts to combat honour violence and protect women was echoed by all.
The role of education was also emphasized by a number of participants, both for women to understand their rights and for societies to question the notion of honour as a tool to legitimize abuse and violence against women. The example of Malala Yousafzai was mentioned to give context to the difficulty that females can face in gaining an education, and the reason for why so many women remain silent on these issues.
Raheel Raza, noted the problematic overlap between culture and religion and emphasized the need for more religious representatives to condemn honour-based violence and to reinforce the idea that such violence is not required by the religious code. She urged the silent majority to speak out on the issue.
A representative from the South Sudanese Lawyer’s society argued that more men need to be involved in the campaign against honour violence.
A Women’s International Peace and Freedom representative highlighted the dangers of initiatives at the UN Human Rights Council on the protection of the family; she argued that when the family is both the recipient and the defender of honour, resolutions that protect and prioritise the family unit make it much more difficult to look into the issues that take place within it.
Overall, the screening and panel discussion helped raise further awareness of the abhorrent worldwide abuse of women in the name of honour, and contributed to better engagement with many actors and experts already within the field.
Along with screening the film, IHEU also submitted a written statement to the UN on Honour-Based violence against women. Download the PDF of our statement: “Global violence against women in the name of honour”.