Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday ordered provincial officials to take “immediate action” over the brutal murder of a pregnant woman bludgeoned to death outside a top court.
Farzana Iqbal was attacked on Tuesday outside the Lahore High Court building by over two-dozen brick-wielding attackers, including her brother and father, for marrying against the wishes of her family.
Hundreds of women are murdered by their relatives in Pakistan each year supposedly to defend family “honor,” but the brazen nature of the attack, in broad daylight and in the center of the country’s second-largest city, has shocked rights activists. The fact that police officers guarding the court apparently did nothing to intervene to save the 25-year-old has added to the outrage.
Sharif has told the Punjab chief minister, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, to act. “I am directing the Chief Minister to take immediate action and report must be submitted by this evening to my office,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office. “This crime is totally unacceptable and must be dealt with in accordance with law promptly.”
Iqbal, who was three months pregnant, had gone to court to testify in defense of her husband Muhammad Iqbal—who was accused by her relatives of kidnapping her and forcing her into marriage. Iqbal, 45, said the couple had survived a previous attack during the first hearing of the case on May 12 and demanded justice for his wife.
He told the BBC that police officers at the court were “watching silently” while his wife was beaten to death on Tuesday, despite desperate attempts to get them to act. “One of my relatives took off his clothes to catch their attention,” he told the broadcaster. “A naked man was crying for help in front of the High Court but nobody intervened.”
The incident gained prompt attention from global media and international human right activists reacted to it. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also strongly condemned the killing on Wednesday, urging Islamabad to take “urgent and strong measures” to put an end to so-called honor killings in the country.
Last year 869 women died in so-called “honor killings” according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Conviction rates are very low due to Pakistan’s blood-money laws, which allow kin to forgive perpetrators, usually family members in such cases.