Aamir Qureshi / AFP / Getty Images

Pakistan family sentenced to death over 'honor killing'

Killing of pregnant woman on busy street outside courthouse has focused attention on violence against women in Pakistan

Four men who bludgeoned a pregnant woman to death outside one of Pakistan's top courts because they objected to her marriage were sentenced to death Wednesday, their defense lawyer said.

A Pakistan court handed the father, brother, cousin and another relative of 25-year-old Farzana Iqbal death sentences and fined each $1,000, lawyer Mansoor Afridi said. Another cousin was sentenced to 10 years in prison and also fined $1,000.

Pakistan currently has a moratorium on executions, meaning death-row prisoners are effectively sentenced to life imprisonment. But Afridi said that the family planned to appeal, and that the verdict was "a decision based on sensationalism."

The state prosecutor was not immediately available for comment.

Hundreds of women are put to death every year in so-called honor killings, often carried out by husbands or relatives as a punishment for alleged adultery or other illicit sexual behavior that constitutes a perceived threat to conservative social traditions. The crime is so common that it rarely merits more than a paragraph in newspapers.

But this particular case attracted attention because it took place on a busy street in broad daylight outside the provincial High Court, on a main downtown thoroughfare where Iqbal — who was three months pregnant — had testified that her marriage to Muhammed Iqbal was genuine, in response to a false charge of kidnapping brought by her family.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the incident back in May as a "brutal killing" that was "totally unacceptable." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was also among those who condemned the killing. 

"I do not even wish to use the phrase honor killing," Pillay said in a statement issued at the time. "There is not the faintest vestige of honor in killing a woman in this way."

In the incident that took place in late May, nearly 20 members of Farzana Iqbal's extended family, including her father and brothers, had waited outside the building that houses the high court of Lahore. As the couple walked up to the main gate, the relatives fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her from her husband, The Associated Press reported.

When she resisted, her relatives started beating her, eventually pelting her with bricks picked up from a nearby construction site, according to the victim's husband and lawyer. Even Pakistanis who have tracked violence against women expressed shock at the brutal and public nature of slaying.

"I have not heard of any such case in which a woman was stoned to death, and the most shameful and worrying thing is that this woman was killed outside a courthouse," Zia Awan, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist told the AP in May.

Muhammed Iqbal later admitted that he had killed his first wife to marry Farzana. He escaped punishment because his son forgave him. According to Pakistani law, a woman's next of kin can forgive her murderers.

Since Pakistani women are often killed by close relations, this loophole allows thousands of murderers to escape without punishment. Awan said those who commit violence against women are also often acquitted or handed light sentences due to poor police work and faulty prosecutions.

"Either the family does not pursue such cases or police don't properly investigate. As a result, the courts either award light sentences to the attackers, or they are acquitted," he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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