ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — A pregnant woman is beaten to death by her relatives outside a court building. Her crime? To elope with the man she loved rather than marry the groom chosen by her family.
The terrible fate of Farzana Parveen, 25, is one shared by all too many women in Pakistan and elsewhere.
She was killed in the name of “honor,” on the grounds her actions had brought shame on her family.
“I do not even wish to use the phrase ‘honour killing': there is not the faintest vestige of honour in killing a woman in this way,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement condemning the killing.
Pillay called on Pakistan’s government to work harder to stop such killings and protect women from violence.
According to a report published in April by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 869 women in the country were the victims of honor killings last year. And activists say the true number may be much higher.
Parveen’s brutal killing is all the more shocking because it was so public.
She was beaten to death with bricks close to the high court in the eastern city of Lahore by a group of about 20 people, including her brothers, father and cousin, police said.
One family member made a noose of rough cloth around her neck while her brothers smashed bricks into her skull, said Mushtaq Ahmed, a police official, citing the preliminary report into the killing. She was three months pregnant, he said.
So-called honor killings often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan, but are not a part of Islam. Although they’re common in rural areas, Tuesday’s attack in a public area of a big city was unusual.
Police officials said Parveen, who came from a village in Punjab, had refused to wed the cousin whom her family had selected for her, choosing instead to elope with a widower named Mohammad Iqbal.
The cousin intended for her husband was among the people who attacked her, police said.
The family had challenged Parveen’s marriage to Iqbal in the courts, accusing him of abducting her.
The attack took place as she was on her way from her lawyer’s office to the high court in Lahore, where she was expected to make a declaration that she had married Iqbal of her own volition.
One of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, The Nation, expressed outrage over Parveen’s killing .
“The familiar brand of barbaric ‘justice’ yet again triumphs over the written law of the land,” it said in an editorial Wednesday. “Another case is settled outside the courts. Another woman, in search of justice, stoned to death, in the name of honor.”
Farzana Bari, a human rights activist based in Islamabad, said the real number may be far higher than the Human Rights Commission’s official count since many families don’t report the crimes.
She said that in many cases, people outside the family don’t step in to protect the victim.
“I’ve seen in the past people stand around and watch, and don’t intervene because it is a private matter,” she told CNN on Wednesday.
“I think honor killing is very much part of our culture. It is a cultural form of violence which is quite prevalent in certain parts of Pakistan.”
Honor killings happen more often in rural, tribal areas, Bari said, but urban cases occur too.
Since many cases are not reported, police have no record and rights groups that try to document what’s happening must do so through media reports and incomplete data.
“There is no systematic information gathered in Pakistan that tells us the extent of the problem,” she said.
Impunity said to encourage killers
And the killers often avoid prosecution.
Under an Islamic element of Pakistani law, known as the law of Diyat, the family of a victim is allowed to forgive the perpetrator, according to the human rights commission’s report.
“Thus the victim’s family usually is related to the perpetrator as well, and conveniently forgives their kin, absolving them of the murder,” the report said. That possibility of impunity has “continued to encourage others to follow suit,” it said.
Bari gave a similar picture — and called for a change in Pakistan’s laws to protect women and the vulnerable.
“Basically, the people have no fear of law because there is a culture of impunity and, as a result of that, people feel free and they can commit such acts outside the courts of justice,” she said.
She blames such actions also on violent and extremist attitudes which, she said, drive people to act even if they are aware of the potential consequences.
“I think we must generally reflect on the sick mindset of the society,” she said.
Police said they had arrested Parveen’s father, whose name they gave only as Azeem. They said he had admitted to the killing and expressed no regret.
Search warrants are out for the other men accused of attacking her.
CNN’s Sophia Saifi reported from Islamabad, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.
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