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Pakistan Toughens Penalties For 'Honor' Killings

Four victims of "honor" crimes in Pakistan: Qandeel Baloch, (top left); Muqadas Tofeeq (top right); Samia Shahid (bottom left); and Tasleem Solangi.

Pakistani lawmakers have passed a new law closing a loophole that has allowed perpetrators of so-called "honor" killings to go free.

"Hundreds of women are murdered every year in Pakistan by male relatives who accuse them of violating family honor. A woman can be killed for just socializing with a man," NPR's Philip Reeves tells our Newscast unit from Islamabad. "The culprits usually escaped punishment because the law allowed the victim's family to forgive them."

But that has now changed, as Philip explains:

"Pakistan's parliament has now voted to scrap that law and to introduce a mandatory 25-year prison sentence. The new legislation means a killer sentenced to death can still be spared if the family intervenes – but he must still do the jail time. There was resistance from Islamist hardliners, but the law passed unanimously."

These killings are "an age-old tradition that has nothing to do with the official legal system," as Philip has reported.

"Pakistan's legislature has exercised tremendous leadership in law reform today," Equality Now said in a statement, "and we are confident that Pakistani women and girls will have a brighter future as a result."

Some supporters of tougher penalties called the new legislation "a step in the right direction, although they said it should have gone further to eliminate forgiveness," The Associated Press reported.

"Remove these clauses which allow the option of forgiveness, otherwise these killings will keep happening," opposition legislator Sherry Rehman said in a speech to parliament, the wire service said.

The joint session of parliament was broadcast live on television, Reuters reported. "Laws are supposed to guide better behaviour, not allow destructive behaviour to continue with impunity," said Sughra Imam, the person who originally introduced the bill, according to the wire service.

The recent murder of social media star Qandeel Baloch by her brother prompted an international outcry and put pressure on legislators to pass this law. As we reported, her brother appeared in front of television cameras and said he "had no regrets about drugging and strangling his sister, who he accused of dishonoring the family," as Philip said at the time. Philip reported that Baloch's brother said he "was upset by her sexually provocative and very popular videos and selfies."

The Associated Press reports that "more than 1,000 women were killed last year in so-called honor killings in Pakistan."

During Thursday's parliament session, Reuters added that lawmakers also passed an anti-rape law, "which makes it mandatory that a perpetrator gets 25 years in jail."

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