The husband of a pregnant woman stoned to death Tuesday outside a Pakistani courthouse has said the police failed to intervene and stop the killing.
Sitting on a charpoy, or traditional woven bed, surrounded by his relatives, Muhammad Iqbal recounts how police officials in the Pakistani city of Lahore “watched and did nothing” as his pregnant wife was stoned to death by her family outside a courthouse Tuesday in broad daylight.
“It was very bad what happened, very bad,” said Iqbal in an interview with the BBC. “Police were silently watching. We were shouting for help. Nobody listened. One of my relatives took off his clothes to catch police attention. But they didn’t intervene.”
Iqbal’s 25-year-old wife, Farzana Parveen – who was three months pregnant – was stoned to death by her own family for marrying against their wishes.
“They watched Farzana being killed and they didn’t do anything,” he repeated in shock. “A naked man was crying for help in front of the high court, but nobody bothered. It’s shameful, it’s inhumane. We even called the police helpline. But they said it was the wrong number.”
Parveen’s father was arrested after the attack and authorities say he described the gruesome slaughter of his daughter as an “honour killing” for bringing shame to the family.
Iqbal and his wife had gone to the Punjab High Court on Tuesday to contest a kidnapping complaint filed by Parveen’s family.
“My wife wanted to tell the court that I had not kidnapped her. We were going to the court with our lawyer,” Iqbal told reporters.
The couple were married in January after Parveen refused her family’s wishes to marry her cousin, according to Iqbal. “We were in love,” he said simply in a phone interview with the Associated Press from Jaranwala, his village outside the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Iqbal’s lawyer, Mustafa Kharal, told reporters that some of Parveen’s family members fired shots in the air and tried to prise her away from her husband. When she resisted, her father, brothers and at least one female relative started beating her outside the court house. The attack soon escalated, with the relatives pelting her with bricks.
PM demands ‘immediate action’
Iqbal was wounded in the attack, but he managed to escape and was able to return to his village with a police escort. “I tried to save my wife, but I failed,” he explained.
The killing, which occurred outside the tightly secured Punjab High Court, a stately colonial structure in the heart of the capital of Pakistan’s richest province, has shocked the nation.
In a statement on Thursday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded “immediate action” over the murder, telling the Punjab chief minister – his brother Shahbaz Sharif – to act over the “brutal killing of lady in the premises of high court in the presence of police”.
“I am directing the chief minister to take immediate action and report must be submitted by this evening to my office,” Sharif said in the statement.
“This crime is totally unacceptable and must be dealt with in accordance with law promptly,” he said.
So-called honour crimes are alarmingly common in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim-majority country where arranged marriages are the norm. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says 869 women were murdered in honour killings in 2013. The actual figure is believed to be much higher since cases in the remote rural areas are often not reported.
But Parveen’s case has captured the national spotlight and opened a debate on the persistent failure of law enforcement officials to respond to honour crimes.
Her killing has highlighted the failure of the law enforcement and justice system in a country where honour crimes are rarely prosecuted and even more rarely convicted due to a widespread cultural acceptance of family honour as a legitimate basis for violence against women.
The Pakistani government does not compile honour killing statistics, but Pakistani media reports say around 77 percent of honour cases result in acquittals.
According to Lahore police investigator Rana Absar, Parveen’s father had surrendered to the authorities hours after the attack and police were searching for the others accused of taking part in the killing.
But Iqbal is not optimistic that justice will be served in the case of his wife’s grisly killing. “Most of the suspects are still at large,” he explained. “And they are threatening us.”
In a startling twist on Thursday, Iqbal, 45, admitted to AFP that he himself had been responsible for killing his first wife, but was spared prison because he was forgiven for the act by his son.
“I was in love with Farzana and killed my first wife because of this love,” Iqbal said, adding that he had strangled her.
The claim was corroborated by local police.
Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior officer investigating the killing of Parveen this week, said police would be filing a report to the government that would detail Iqbal’s past.
“Iqbal was a notorious character and he had murdered his first wife six years ago,” Hameed said.
“He was arrested and later released after a compromise with his family,” he added.
(Geo Urdu with FRANCE 24, AP and AFP)