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Pakistan court frees brother accused of killing Social Media star

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LAHORE: The brother of a Pakistani social media star, who confessed to killing his sister in one of the country’s most notorious honor killings on February 14, was acquitted and is expected to be freed after serving just a few years of a life sentence.

Muhammad Waseem was arrested in 2016 after his sister, Qandeel Baloch, was found strangled in her home near the city of Multan in Punjab Province. The 26-year-old had posted what Waseem called “shameful” pictures on Facebook.

Waseem Baloch’s lawyer, Sardar Mehmood, confirmed the acquittal but did not provide further details as the court order has not yet been made public.

Waseem Baloch was arrested within days of the murder and confessed on video to killing his 25-year-old sister at her family home in the city of Multan in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Despite his admission, he pleaded not guilty in court and in 2019 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pakistan’s so-called ‘honor killings’ typically involve the murder of a woman by a relative who believes she has brought shame upon the family. At the time of Qandeel Baloch’s murder, Pakistan law allowed a murder victim’s family to pardon a convicted killer.

Rights activists feared this law would be used to spare Waseem Baloch.

Three months after Qandeel Baloch’s death, Pakistan lawmakers responded to the public outcry and passed legislation against the controversial practice—a landmark ruling welcomed by rights activists and lawyers.

But Waseem Baloch’s acquittal Monday has outraged women’s rights activists in Pakistan.

Sanam Maher, the author of “A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch,” also expressed her anger on Instagram.

“In a society that takes great pleasure in the punishment of women who break the rules, it should come as no surprise that each suspect, in this case, has been acquitted,” Maher said.

“After today’s verdict, we may ask, who killed her? Nobody, it seems. In accepting that answer, we are all complicit in the crime of failing to protect women.”

Qandeel Baloch gained both fame and notoriety in inherently conservative and patriarchal Pakistan for her bold, sassy, and increasingly political Social Media posts.

In posts not dissimilar to the millions of posts and videos shared by 20-something social media celebrities across the Internet, she pouted into the camera, discussed hairstyles, and shared cooing confessions about her celebrity crushes.

Qandeel referred to herself as a “modern-day feminist” and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook.

But in Pakistan, her antics pushed the boundaries of what is considered by the conservatives acceptable.

In a confession video, Waseem Baloch said he was “proud” of killing his sister, adding that having his friends share her pictures and video clips was “too much” for him.

“I drugged her first, then I killed her,” he said. “Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.”

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