Even in Pakistan, where hundreds of “honor killings” (external - login to view) are reported every year, (external - login to view) this case was extreme. According to court filings and interviews with people who investigated it, the families confined the girls for weeks, threw boiling water and hot coals on them, then killed them and buried them somewhere in the Kohistan hills.
The head of the local jirga, a Muslim cleric, allegedly issued a religious decree ordering the five girls to be killed for dishonoring their tribe, along with the boy seen dancing and every member of his family. There was no resistance from the community. After the girls were disposed of, several brothers of the boy were also caught and killed. The rest of the family, including Kohistani, fled the area
It was just a few seconds, a video clip of several young women laughing and clapping to music, dressed for a party or a wedding in orange headscarves and robes with floral patterns. Then a few more seconds of a young man dancing alone, apparently in the same room.
The cellphone video was made six years ago, in a village deep in Kohistan, a rugged area of northwest Pakistan. It was the last time the young women, known only as Bazeegha, Sareen Jan, Begum Jan, Amina and Shaheen, have ever been definitively seen alive.
What happened to them remains a mystery. Their fates have been shrouded by cultural taboos, official inertia, implacable resistance from elders and religious leaders suspected of ordering their deaths, and elaborate subterfuges by the families who reportedly carried out those orders.
There things stood for more than a year. No crimes were reported, and no one came to investigate. Kohistani, a college graduate from one of the area’s wealthier families, said he repeatedly approached local and provincial officials, reporting the killings and seeking protection, but was chided for opposing the jirga’s verdict.
“No one in my district or my province has ever spoken against honor killing. They tell me I have defamed my culture, my religion, my tribe,” Kohistani said this month. “Everybody knows what happened, but no one is ready to come forward. This is an illegal, unconstitutional and un-Islamic tradition, but people don’t even consider it a crime.”
With assistance from a lawyer in Islamabad, Kohistani appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a liberal activist, personally took up the case in 2012 and ordered two fact-finding missions sent to the remote area by helicopter.
When the visitors demanded to see the girls, their families at first refused but eventually presented three girls and said they were the ones in the video. The three delegates had no chance to speak to the girls in private, but they compared their faces with images from the video. Two were convinced of the likenesses; the third, Farzana Bari, said she had doubts.
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