Pakistani woman killed by the man she asked to save her from family’s ‘honour killing’

Boyfriend of Muzammil Bibi arrested after admitting murdering her, when she asked to run away from her family

The cover-up fooled no one. Muzammil Bibi was found slumped under a tree, in what was intended to look like suicide. Police said the 21-year-old had been raped and strangled before the killers looped her scarf around her neck and dumped the body beneath a tree, in a case with a chilling similarity to murders in India.

But as police in Pakistan’s Punjab province examined the evidence they soon realised Bibi had been killed by the man she had asked to protect her from her own family.

The case is the latest in a string of murders that have sparked revulsion around the world and focused attention on the hidden lives of many women in South Asia.

Yousuf Khan, a senior police officer in Layyah, said he had never encountered a case like it. He said the woman’s boyfriend of six months had been taken into custody and confessed to the rape and murder.

“Her dead body was left to make this murder look like suicide,” he said.

She died apparently afraid that her family had discovered her secret relationship with Muhammad Saqib, a stonemason, and would kill her for bringing shame on the family.

They realised she was missing from the family home late on Thursday night, along with her brother’s mobile phone.

“My son made a call from my phone to locate his mobile phone,” Allah Ditta, her father, told reporters. “It turned out that the phone was with my daughter. She replied: ‘I am near the cattle farm and on my way home.'”

She never returned. Instead, early the next morning the family were told of a young woman’s body dumped beneath a tree a little over a mile from their home.

She lay slumped on the ground. The killers had not found a branch high enough to perfect the deception.

After being arrested, Saqib told police officers that when she received the phone call she feared she would be subject to an “honour killing” and demanded they elope together.

He told her he did not have enough money to marry her, according to the police account.

“On this, I got infuriated and strangulated her to death,” he is reported to have said.

Two other men have also been arrested.

Police said they had heard of similar cases in neighbouring India, but never Pakistan.

Last month, two teenage cousins – aged 14 and 15 – were found hanging from a mango tree after being raped in northern India. Three men have been arrested as well as two policemen, accused of helping cover up the crime.

The images of the two young bodies provoked outrage around the world and calls in India to accelerate rape prosecutions.

Even so, the bodies of two more women have been found in similar circumstances since.

The status of women in rural Pakistan was highlighted by the murder of Farzana Parveen, also in May, bludgeoned to death by relatives in broad daylight in the city of Lahore. She was killed after her father fell out with the man she was supposed to marry.

The death made headlines around the world. Clerics issued a fatwa against honour killings. Pakistan’s prime minister ordered the police to provide an explanation about how it could have happened so close to Lahore’s courthouse.

But Bina Shah, a novelist and commentator, said nothing would change in a country where almost 1000 women die in similar circumstances every year.

“It’s eyewash,” she said. “They’ll make a fuss about it for a while to let the international community and media say OK, they are doing something, but then nothing will change.”

Hundreds more cases of honour killings are thought to go unreported each year, written off as domestic accidents or suicides, or settled between families with blood money.

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