Man who exposed honour killings in Pakistan after wedding video goes online is shot dead
The central character who exposed the 2012 Kohistan video scandal, first to the media and then the court, was killed in Abbottabad on Wednesday evening, police said.
Afzal Kohistani, was shot dead in the densely populated area of Sarban Chowk at around 8:10pm by unidentified gunmen who managed to flee afterwards.
According to witnesses, Afzal was shot multiple times and died on the spot.
Three passers-by were also injured and were taken to the Ayub Medical Complex Hospital. They were identified as Kaleemullah, Said Karam, and Sabir.
Afzal’s body, meanwhile, was taken to DHQ Hospital where an autopsy was conducted.
Abbottabad District Police Officer Abbas Majeed Marwat and Superintendent of Police Investigation Aziz Afridi reached the spot with a heavy contingent of police and started an investigation into the killing.
According to Station House Officer Ghafoor, of the Cantt police station, Afzal was accompanied by his nephew at the time of the incident. The nephew shot back at the gunmen and remained unhurt.
The Kohistan video scandal made headlines in 2012 when eight boys and girls were killed by members of their tribe after a mobile phone video of them at a wedding in a remote village in Kohistan emerged on social media.
The video showed five females singing and clapping along as the male family members danced. The mixed gathering had taken place in a village located in an extremely conservative part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the eyes of the locals, the youngsters had violated tribal norms and brought dishonour upon them.
After the video was leaked, a jirga was held by the girls’ tribe which decreed the killing of the boys and girls under ‘riwaj’ (a tribal custom).
Afzal, the brother of one of the boys in the video, was the one who made the news public, alleging that the girls had been killed on May 30, 2012, on the orders of a cleric who led a 40-50 member tribal jirga. Officials in the area, however, had claimed that the murders did not take place and the girls were alive.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary had taken a suo motu notice of the case on June 7, 2012, and constituted a fact-finding mission on July 17 the same year to investigate the case.
The commission went to Kohistan and investigated the matter, producing a report on July 20, 2017, which stated that the girls were alive. Rights activist Farzana Bari, also part of the commission, had expressed doubts at the time that the girls produced before the commission were not the same and some other burqa-clad and veiled girls were, in fact, presented.
Three of Afzal’s brothers named Shah Faisal, Sher Wali, and Rafiuddin were also killed inside their home on January 3, 2013, by the girls’ tribesmen and a year earlier, a child was also killed due to the burning of Afzal’s home.
On July 31, 2018, a new case was registered at Palas police station on the Supreme Court’s orders.
Four suspects namely Umar Khan, Saber, Mohammad Sarfraz and Saeed were arrested. Upon interrogation, the suspects confessed to killing three of the girls — Begum Jan, Sireen Jan and Bazgha — by firing, saying they had disposed of the bodies in Nala Chorh.
Afzal had been of the firm view that the suspects were lying. “They killed all five girls by severe torture and are not identifying graves as it will reveal their brutality,” he had said at the time.
Afzal had been receiving constant death threats, prompting the Supreme Court to direct the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to provide him security, but the orders were reportedly not followed.
In January this year, while talking to media representatives in Bisham, Afzal had said that during the last court hearing he was scared as his rivals had informed their group about his arrival at the civil court in Kolai-Palas Kohistan.
Editorial: Kohistan killings
“After the court convicted the accused for killing the five women seen in the video on the order of a jirga, my life is under threat and I am seeking security,” he had said.
He had alleged that a jirga held in Palas had planned to kill him wherever he was spotted.
“They think that I have defamed the honour of the people of Kohistan, and killing me is their target, but I will continue the fight against the so-called culture in which animals are more valuable than human beings,” he had vowed.
“I have submitted several applications to the Hazara division’s regional police officer for my security, especially when I visit Kohistan and Bisham for court hearings because my family and I are receiving threats by those angered by the court decision.”
Afzal had warned that if anything were to happen to him, the onus would be on the Hazara police.