The man at the centre of a campaign to expose one of Pakistan’s most notorious “honour killings” cases has been shot dead nearly seven years after he brought it to national attention. M Ilyas Khan reports from Islamabad.
A video showing two men dancing as four women sing a wedding song to the beat of clapping would pass as normal anywhere in the world.
But this scene, filmed in 2011, led to chilling consequences. The women in the video, and a young female member of the family who was also at the scene, are believed to have been killed by male relatives for breaching their honour.
Afzal Kohistani, a brother of the men in the video, has now been killed too. His death comes amid a blood feud that has also seen three of his other brothers killed.
Mr Kohistani was shot dead in a busy commercial area of the north-western city of Abbottabad on Wednesday night, police said, quoting witnesses to the killing. He suffered multiple injuries and died on the spot, they said.
In 2012, Mr Kohistani entered the public eye as one of the first Pakistanis to violate a local custom in remote northern Kohistan district whereby matters of family honour are settled in blood. Those perceived to have violated the code are killed with the mutual consent of families involved.
About 1,000 “honour-killings” of women by relatives are recorded each year in Pakistan, say human rights campaigners. The real number is likely to be much higher. A much smaller number of men are murdered in such cases.
According to the custom, the male family members of a woman suspected of an out-of-wedlock liaison should first kill the woman, and then go after the man. The family of the man would not oppose this action.
Disregarding this local code, Mr Kohistani brought the wedding video case to national attention in June 2012, when he claimed that the women in the video had been killed by their family a month earlier, and that the lives of his younger brothers, two of whom were seen dancing in the footage, were in danger.
They were sent into hiding and a subsequent inquiry by the Supreme Court found no evidence of the so-called honour killings of the women, which are illegal under Pakistani law.
But Afzal Kohistani’s decision to break the local code – Kohistan is one of the most conservative and inaccessible parts of Pakistan – sparked a feud between his family and that of the women.
Three of his older brothers were killed in 2013 – six men from the women’s family were convicted in connection with the murders in what was seen as a landmark case in Kohistan. However they were acquitted by the high court in 2017.
But Mr Kohistani continued to talk about what had happened to the women – lobbying police officers and courts and drawing attention from the media.
Finally, in July 2018, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh police investigation, which led to five further arrests of men from the women’s family.
According to the police, they admitted during interrogation that three of the four women seen in the video had been killed, but retracted their statement when they appeared before a magistrate.
The case remains open but the killing of Afzal Kohistani deepens the tragedy – which started with a video of dancing and singing and has since spiralled into a bloody tale of Shakespearean proportions, with at least nine lives claimed.