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A man who strangled his celebrity sister has been acquitted in Pakistan

Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch is pictured in June 2016. Her brother, who strangled her to death that year, has been acquitted.
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Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch is pictured in June 2016. Her brother, who strangled her to death that year, has been acquitted.

ISLAMABAD — There's outrage in Pakistan following the acquittal of a man who strangled his sister to death.

In a country where so-called "honor" killings are rife, the case of Qandeel Baloch made international headlines after the social media star was killed in 2016, and built momentum for tougher penalties in such cases.

Baloch scandalized conservative Pakistanis as she flirted with mullahs and offered to strip if her country won in cricket. In her death, Baloch became an icon for Pakistani feminists — some even wear masks of her face in Women's Day marches. They see her as a woman who lived life on her own terms, and see her fate as symbolic of the violence of their patriarchal society.

Baloch, who was coy about her origins, was from a deeply conservative belt of central Pakistan. It's so conservative that women only leave their homes with their faces veiled. Some are made to walk barefoot so they'd be forced to keep their eyes down in order to avoid stumbling. The journalist who reported that detail, Sanam Maher, wrote a book about Baloch's life called A Woman Like Her, which published in 2020.

Baloch's brother was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 after he freely admitted to murdering her, telling local media that her behavior was "intolerable" and that she dishonored her family.

Her parents initially said they'd never forgive their son, but later changed their minds. That allowed his lawyer to demand his acquittal, which was granted on Monday.

For feminists in the country, the acquittal appeared to underscore how elusive justice is for women in Pakistan.

"He's a free man now," wrote Pakistani writer Nuzhat Siddiqi of Baloch's brother in an Instagram story. "If this doesn't tell you how this country hates women, I don't know what will."

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