One Man, Two Wives and Many Accepted Forms of Violence in Pakistan

LONDON — The murder case of Farzana Parveen, it seemed, could hardly have turned more tragic or gruesome: a 25-year-old pregnant woman, bludgeoned to death with a brick by family members on a busy street, for having married the man she loved.

Then, in recent days, came a dark twist.

It turned out that Ms. Parveen’s husband, Muhammad Iqbal — who had been photographed over the bloodied body of his wife, his face etched with grief — had been a black widower five years earlier. Mr. Iqbal, 45, said he had killed his first wife to be with Ms. Parveen, and later won his freedom, legally, using an Islamic provision of Pakistani law. “I strangled her,” he said of his first wife in a telephone interview. “I liked Farzana since she was a child.”

The attack on Ms. Parveen in Lahore, Pakistan, on Tuesday has generated global outrage, a public intervention from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and an unusually aggressive effort by the Pakistani police to pursue those responsible. By Friday morning five men, including Ms. Parveen’s father, had been arrested, but officers were still searching for her two brothers, one of whom faces accusations of beating her to death with a brick.

Mr. Iqbal with a picture of Ms. Parveen. He strangled his first wife to be with Ms. Parveen and was freed under Islamic law. CreditAamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To some, Ms. Parveen’s death was a sign of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan, an impression burnished by news media reports of a stoning, an image with echoes of Taliban-era Afghanistan.

Yet rights activists and analysts said the deaths of Mr. Iqbal’s two wives were not a product of religious extremism, but rather stemmed from a deep rooted societal prejudice against women and what they call a flawed legal provision that allows killers to, quite literally, get away with murder.

“The state has created an enabling environment for honor killings,” said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and commentator whose office is yards from the spot where Ms. Parveen was felled. “A woman being disciplined by her family is seen as a private matter by the police, the courts and the law.”

Under an Islamic provision of Pakistani law, a convicted murderer can avoid punishment either by obtaining forgiveness from the victim’s family or through payment of “blood money,” also known as diyat.

The rich and powerful often abuse the law to avoid punishment, but rights activists say it can also foster a dangerous sense of impunity.

“It creates the feeling that you can kill a person in broad daylight and get away with it,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, a former director for Human Rights Watch in Pakistan.

In Mr. Iqbal’s case, police records show that after killing his first wife, Ayesha Bibi, in 2009, he absconded for four years, during which he stayed with Ms. Parveen’s family in Nankana Sahib, a district roughly 60 miles west of Lahore.

The police captured Mr. Iqbal in April 2013 but his incarceration was short-lived. His son, his first wife’s next of kin, legally pardoned him for that killing and he was set free. Months later, he asked Ms. Parveen to marry him.

But that union was blighted by a dispute with Ms. Parveen’s father over the dowry payment, and came to a bloody conclusion Tuesday outside the Lahore High Court. Her family, who had chosen a cousin to marry her instead, had filed a police complaint saying that Mr. Iqbal had coerced her into marriage, and she was headed to court to testify in the case.

As men crowded around Ms. Parveen, who was three months pregnant, a man fired a gun and the bullet grazed her ankle, said Umer Riaz Cheema, a police investigator. She tried to flee but was pulled to the ground by her shawl.

Her father, Muhammad Azeem, hit her with a brick taken from the side of the road. Then her brother Zahid and a cousin named Mazhar Iqbal took up the attack, the investigator said.

After Ms. Parveen died, her family continued to beat her body with a shoe. Had she reached the courthouse, her lawyer said, she would have testified that she had married Mr. Iqbal of her own free will.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported 869 so-called honor killings in 2013. Most occur in rural areas, where tribal practices hold strong.

Ms. Parveen’s death shocked many Pakistanis because it occurred in broad daylight in the country’s second-largest city, outside a courthouse and before a crowd of witnesses.

“We have turned into a nation of brutalized beings unmoved by death,” the Pakistani daily The News said in an editorial.

Even religious conservatives, who rarely stand up for women’s rights, joined in the condemnation.

“These acts have nothing to do with Islam,” said Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, which represents Islamic clerics.

The attack on Ms. Parveen coincided with publicized attacks on women elsewhere: the rape and lynching of two teenage girls in India and thedeadly rampage by a disturbed young man in Santa Barbara, Calif. Put together, they highlight “the wave of violence against women,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for l Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, on Friday. “Every man, every woman, deserves to be protected by the law.”

The diyat provision has much wider applications than just honor killings, and the law has been invoked even by the United States. In 2011, American officials used it to obtain the release of Raymond A. Davis, a C.I.A. contractor who had shot dead two Pakistanis on the street earlier that year.

The families of his victims were paid $2.34 million in compensation — it was never clear by whom — and Mr. Davis was flown out of Pakistan within hours.

Later, the United States government paid $100,000 to the family of a third man, who was killed by C.I.A. officials who ran him down with their jeep as they rushed to Mr. Davis’s aid, said an American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The intense focus on Ms. Parveen’s death has created a push for judicial action. Both Mr. Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, have publicly urged the police and courts to move swiftly.

Alongside the Islamic provisions, Pakistan’s penal code also has clauses that could be invoked to ensure that Ms. Parveen’s killers serve jail time, said Mr. Ijaz, the lawyer.

Ms. Parveen has now been buried, but her husband, Mr. Iqbal, has complained of fresh threats from her family. “They say they will kill me,” he said, speaking by phone, “and that they will remove her body from the grave and burn it.”

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