Social media star’s sibling has admitted he strangled her, claiming he drugged her before the murder.
The brother of murdered social media star Qandeel Baloch said on Sunday he is “not embarrassed” to have killed her, as her death reignited polarizing calls for action against the “epidemic” of honor killings.
The strangling of Baloch, judged by many in conservative Muslim Pakistan as infamous for selfies and videos that by Western standards would appear tame, has prompted shock and revulsion. “Yes of course, I strangled her,” Baloch’s brother Muhammad Wasim told reporters at a defiant press conference organized by police in Multan early Sunday. “She was on the ground floor while our parents were asleep on the roof top,” he continued. “It was around 10:45 p.m. when I gave her a tablet… and then killed her.”
Wasim said he acted alone. “I am not embarrassed at all over what I did,” he said. “Whatever was the case, it [her behavior] was completely intolerable.”
Baloch, 26, and whose real name was Fouzia Azeem, was killed on Friday night at her family’s home near Multan. Her brother, arrested a day later after her father filed a police complaint against him for the killing, appeared in court briefly Sunday ahead of another hearing set for Wednesday.
Hundreds of women are murdered for “honor” every year in Pakistan.
The killers overwhelmingly walk free because of a law that allows the family of the victim to forgive the murderer—who is often also a relative.
A vigil held late Saturday in Lahore was attended by dozens of mourners, while an online petition entitled “No Country for Bold Women” and demanding accountability over Baloch’s death had gained more than 1,600 signatures by Sunday.
Despite liberal support for Baloch, many conservatives have pushed back, with some echoing Wasim’s statement by arguing that her family would have had “no choice.”
Baloch was buried early Sunday near her family home in southern Punjab.
Some of Baloch’s more notorious acts included volunteering to perform a striptease for the Pakistani cricket team if they won a tournament, and donning a plunging scarlet dress on Valentine’s Day. She also posed for selfies with a high-profile mullah in an incident that saw him swiftly rebuked by the country’s religious affairs ministry.
She told local media she had received death threats in the wake of the controversy, and that her requests for protection from authorities had been ignored.
Initially dismissed as a Kim Kardashian-like figure, she was seen by some as empowered in a country where women have fought for their rights for decades. In her final Facebook post on July 4 she wrote how she was trying to “change the typical orthodox mindset of people,” and thanked her supporters for “understanding the message i (sic) try to convey through my bold posts and videos.”
“Qandeel was an extremely astute individual who knew that what she was doing was more than being the most loved bad girl of Pakistan,” columnist and activist Aisha Sarawari told AFP. Her killing “defines yet another setback for the women of our generation… This makes it harder for women. Period.”
“Many in Pakistan have laid blame for her death on her bold and provocative public acts,” noted Benazir Jatoi, who works with the Aurat Foundation, a local NGO working on women’s legal and political empowerment. “Qandeel has put a face to the countless ordinary Pakistani women that are murdered because society has given carte blanche to men,” she added.
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on honor killings won an Oscar earlier this year, slammed Baloch’s murder as symptomatic of an “epidemic” of violence against women in Pakistan. Obaid-Chinoy’s film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness was hailed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who in February vowed to push through anti-honor killing legislation.
No action has been taken since then.