‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’ Drugged and Strangled in Honor Killing
PARIS — On the day she was murdered, Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch took to the Internet, where she once again uploaded the sorts of sultry images that had gained her thousands of followers.
Often referred to as Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, the similarly curvaceous 26-year-old, whose real name was Fouzia Azeem, posted the usual provocative photos of herself on Instagram and Facebook, this time sporting a tight black top and a glittery headband. Meticulously made up, her eyes are fixed on the camera, her lips the perfect shade of petal pink.
That night, just hours after she put the pictures up, Baloch was strangled in her family's home near Multan, allegedly by her own brother in a so-called honor killing.
"Yes of course, I strangled her," Baloch's brother, Muhammad Wasim, told reporters at a press conference shortly after his arrest.
"She was on the ground floor while our parents were asleep on the roof top," he continued, describing how he had given her a sleeping pill before killing her.
Wasim explained that his sister's "intolerable behavior" is what drove him to murder her, and that her racy persona was bringing "dishonor" to the family.
"I am not embarrassed at all over what I did," he said.
Wasim's nonchalant attitude and lack of remorse are all-too-common in Pakistan, where the country's Human Rights Commission recorded nearly 1,000 honor crimes against women in 2015. The real figure is believed to be significantly higher, due to underreporting.
The Human Rights Commission cites "domestic disputes, alleged illicit relations, or exercising the right of choice in marriage" as the main motivations for such killings, but cases such as Baloch's, in which a man believes that other actions of a female relative are somehow "dishonoring" the family name, also are alarmingly frequent.
Last September, for instance, a Sargodha man fatally shot two of his sisters for what he dubbed "bad character." And in the same month, another man gunned down three of his cousins in the name of "honor" in a village in Punjab province.
Scroll through Baloch's Instagram feed, and you won't find any Kardashian-esque nudes. There is some cleavage here, a bare thigh there, and numerous suggestive pouts. But compared to the risqué images that clog the accounts of American social media celebrities, Baloch's photos are quite tame.
In socially conservative Pakistan, however, where female modesty is the de facto norm, critics of Baloch considered the pictures borderline obscene. And on her social media pages, words of support share space with harsh and, at times, aggressive attacks.
"What's ur goal? U want to [be] most insulted person in the world?" reads a recent comment on one of Baloch's pictures on Facebook.
"If u closely look at her face, u can see clearly she looks just like a prostitute," reads another.
Other commenters decry her "slutty, porn star behavior" and "disrespect" for her country, and many degenerate into full-on misogynistic abuse and bullying.
The controversy Baloch whipped up, however, went beyond her suggestive selfies and videos. She was also a provocative feminist, often speaking out against Pakistan's patriarchal social norms and calling herself a "one-woman army." Her photos and videos were her way of thumbing her nose at Pakistan's patriarchal society. By dressing as she wanted and flaunting her sexuality, Baloch believed that she was challenging the country's repressive religious and social status quo.
"At least international media can see what i am up to," she wrote in a July 4 post on Facebook with a link to a recent BBC radio segment about her. "How i am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don't wanna come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices."
"As a women we must stand up for ourselves," she posted on July 14, just a day before she was killed. "I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality… I don't think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society."
Baloch created another firestorm when she posted selfies with prominent cleric Mufti Qavi back in June. "When Qandeel Baloch met Mufti Qavi: A guideline on how NOT to learn Islam," read the headline of the country's Express Tribune news site. And she was in the spotlight again in recent days when it was revealed she was previously married, and was currently estranged from her young son.
"I never accepted him as my husband in my heart or mind," Baloch said in a recent interview with the Pakistani news site Dawn, explaining how her parents had married her off against her will when she was a teenager. "How I spent a year and a half with him, only I know. And I only did it because of the child. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent even one month with him."
Baloch divorced her husband, whom she claimed was abusive with her, and set off to begin a modeling career before becoming an Internet sensation. She called her success an act of revenge on her country.
"This patriarchal society is bad," she told Dawn journalist Hufsa Chaudry. "Being a girl, think yourself, how difficult it is to move around as a woman in this society. How many men do you encounter who bother you?"
Less than a month before she was killed, Baloch approached authorities, asking for protection after some of her personal identification documents were leaked on social media. She had also been receiving death threats and was considering moving out of the country.
Despite her fears, Baloch continued to upload her provocative photos and her defiant feminist messages. In her last Facebook post before her death she wrote:
"No matter how many times I will be pushed down under…I will bounce back. I will keep on achieving and I know you will keep on hating...DAMN but who cares."
Sadly for Baloch, her own brother cared enough to kill her.