The brother of a murdered social-media star described as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian has been acquitted on appeal — less than three years after being convicted for the so-called “honor killing.”
Muhammad Waseem was freed by an appeals court in the city of Multan in the alleged killing of his sister, Qandeel Baloch, 26, his defense lawyer Sardar Mehboob said Monday.
Waseem — who was convicted of murder in September 2019 and sentenced to life behind bars — had admitted at a press conference organized by police that he strangled Baloch due to her risqué Facebook posts.
The modeling star, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, had spoken in the posts of trying to change “the typical orthodox mindset” of people in the country.
She faced frequent misogynist abuse and death threats but continued to post provocative images and videos in the conservative South Asian nation.
The killing of the self-proclaimed “modern-day feminist” in 2016 sent shockwaves across Pakistan and prompted the government to tighten laws to ensure that killers would not walk free if family members forgave them.
Waseem’s parents had forgiven their son — who said he had no remorse for the murder because Baloch’s behavior was “intolerable” — and asked for him to be acquitted.
“He has been fully acquitted” by the appeals court in the eastern city of Multan, Mehboob told Agence France-Presse.
Major witnesses retracted their testimony, the attorney explained without elaborating, according to Reuters.
A government prosecutor also confirmed the acquittal. He is expected to be released later this week, AFP reported.
Safdar Shah, a lawyer for the siblings’ mother, said she had given “her consent” to pardon Waseem, according to the news outlet.
It was unclear whether the court considered the mother’s statement in its decision.
The acquittal has outraged women’s rights activists in Pakistan.
“Waseem may now walk free while Qandeel was condemned for stepping outside the bounds of what is deemed ‘acceptable’ behavior for women in Pakistan,” biographer Sanam Maher told AFP.
“After today’s verdict, we may ask, who killed her?” added Maher, the author of “A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch.”
Lawyer and activist Nighat Dad said on Twitter: “This man who confessed of killing Qandeel, his own sister, is a free man today in the same country where Qandeel couldn’t live her life freely.”
She added: “This is the sorry state of not so sorry State…we are sorry Qandeel. Shocked and speechless.”
Three months after the murder, Pakistan’s parliament passed new legislation mandating life imprisonment for “honor killings.”
Under a recent law change, perpetrators are no longer able to seek forgiveness from the victim’s family and to have their sentences commuted.
However, whether a murder is defined as an “honor killing” is left to a judge’s discretion — meaning killers can theoretically claim a different motive and still be pardoned.
Hundreds of women have been killed each year in Pakistan by family members over perceived damage to “honor” that can involve eloping, fraternizing with men or any other infraction against conservative values that govern women’s modesty.