Pakistan police investigate killing of woman over social media photo

By Mushtaq Ali

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Police in Pakistan are investigating the killing of an 18-year old woman after villager elders called for her death because she had appeared in a picture on social media, police said on Monday, the latest victim of a so-called honour killing.

Police said the woman had been killed after a council of elders, known as a jirga, had ordered that she and a friend, who also appeared in the picture, be killed. Some relatives of the dead woman were among the suspects, police said.

“Some people had uploaded pictures of the two girls,” said Masood Khan, deputy superintendent of police in the Kolai-Palas district in the mountains of northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.

“They shot dead one of them while police rescued the second one,” he said, referring to villagers.

Every year, hundreds of women in Muslim Pakistan are victims of honour killings, carried out by relatives professing to be acting in defence of a family’s honour, rights group say, often in deeply conservative rural areas.

The caretaker chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Syed Irshad Hussain Shah, said he had ordered police to arrest those responsible.

“We are investigating,” Khan said, adding that male relatives of the young woman were believed to be involved in the killing. The second woman had been returned to her family after a judge investigated her safety, he said.

Public images of women are considered taboo in the area, Khan said.

Reuters was not able to immediately reach the women’s families or elders involved in the gathering by telephone for comment.

Such killings are often carried out over perceived offences such as elopement, fraternization with men outside marriage or other infractions of religious and cultural values on female modesty, despite campaigns by rights groups and tighter laws.

Last year, an appeals court acquitted the brother of a social media star, Qandeel Baloch, of her murder, a 2016 killing that sparked national outrage and changes in laws covering honour killings.

(Reporting by Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar; writing by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; editing by Robert Birsel)