The videos and selfies of Pakistan’s biggest social media star Qandeel Baloch were not very different from the millions of others shared globally by 20-somethings across the internet. She pouted into the camera, showed off her clothes, gave her brash opinions and candidly confessed about her celebrity crushes.
In Facebook posts, Qandeel, 26, (real name was Fauzia Azeem) spoke of trying to change “the typical orthodox mindset” of people in Pakistan. She faced frequent misogynist abuse and death threats but continued to post provocative pictures and videos.
But in Pakistan, her flirty antics pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable and drove her brother to strangle her to death at her family home in Multan, Punjab.
Qandeel’s brother Muhammad Waseem on Sunday 17th July admitted to strangling his sister whose risqué social media posts both titillated and appalled conservative Pakistan. Police are also investigating Baloch’s other brother, Muhammad Aslam, who is a junior army officer.
Waseem said he gave a “tablet” to Baloch to subdue her and then strangled her in their family home over the weekend.
“I have no regrets,” he told journalists during a press conference arranged by the police early on Sunday.
After initially going on the run, Waseem was later arrested. In his confession video, he expresses no regret. “I am proud of what I did,” he said.
“ I drugged her first, then I killed her,” Waseem Baloch says. “She was bringing dishonour to our family.”
Her brother Waseem claims that having his friends share her pictures and video clips were “too much” for him and killing his sister was a better alternative than killing himself. He also said he’s proud he killed his sister, claiming he did it because “girls are born to stay home.”
In his confession, Waseem remarks that he thinks he will be remembered with pride and honour, and by bringing honour to his family he has earned his place “in heaven.”
“Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that,” he says.
Both adored and reviled, Qandeel, has been described as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian and built a modelling career on the back of her social media fame.
A self-confessed “modern day feminist” with almost 800,000 followers on Facebook, Qandeel had offered to strip if the wildly popular Pakistani cricket team beat arch-rival India.
She also appeared in a music video, gyrating bare legged to an Urdu-language song in high-heels and a see-through top.
Prior to her death Baloch spoke of worries about her safety and had appealed to the interior ministry to provide her with security for protection. No help was provided and the interior ministry has not commented on her death.
Prominent cleric ‘to be investigated’
In one incident, Qandeel made headlines after posting selfies on her Instagram account with Mufti Abdul Qavi, a senior member of the clergy. According to Waseem, this particular controversy was “the end of it.”
“I planned this after her scandal with the mufti and was waiting for the right time,” says Waseem.
Qandeel had posted a series of posts with the prominent Muslim cleric – one video shows her sitting on the cleric’s lap. She was unapologetic about her bid to push the boundaries of acceptability for women and change “the typical orthodox mindset” of Pakistanis.
The media frenzy surrounding the pictures resulted in Qavi’s suspension from his post on one of Pakistan’s religious committees, and police have announced that Mufti Abdul Qavi is also to be investigated in connection with the murder of the social media celebrity.
However, speaking to a global news agency, Mufti Abdul Qavi denied reports he was being investigated in relation to Qandeel’s death. “These allegations are wrong,” he said.
“We have decided to widen the scope of the investigation and include Mufti Abdul Qavi in the probe,” Azhar Ikram, the police chief in the town of Multan said.
Qavi told media that’s Qandeel Baloch’s death should serve as an example for others who tried to malign the clergy, though he also stated that he had “forgiven her”.
Now Qandeel’s mother has accused the cleric of provoking her son into carrying out the murder. She claims her son Waseem carried out the killing under the cleric’s influence.
Almost 1000 women die in Pakistan each year in such ‘honour-killings’, usually carried out by members of the victim’s family meting out punishment for bringing “shame” to the community.
On the list of 145 countries featured in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report, Pakistan is second to last in gender disparity.
According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, violence against women is rampant, with as many as 212 women being killed in the name of ‘honour’ in the first five months of 2016.
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on honour killings won an Oscar earlier this year, slammed Baloch’s murder as symptomatic of an “epidemic” of violence against women in Pakistan.
Obaid-Chinoy’s film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” was hailed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who in February vowed to push through anti-honour killing legislation.
Nawaz Sharif has promised to tackle the problem but critics say few concrete steps have been taken. “There is no honour in honour killing, in fact there can be nothing more degrading than to engage in brutal murder and to refer to it as honour,” he said in a press statement six months ago.
On the morning Qandeel was murdered, she shared a picture of herself staring defiantly into the camera, wearing a pair of leopard-print pants and a black tank top.
Despite reports that she was scared for her life, she wrote that she was a fighter.
“I will bounce back,” she said, adding that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society.”
Qandeel’s murder has reignited the debate about so-called “honour killings” in the South Asian nation which sent shockwaves across Muslim Pakistan and triggered an outpouring of grief on social media for her.