Investigations into the killing of social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch have enveloped a prominent Muslim cleric Abdul Qavi.

Qavi was criticized for appearing in “selfie” photos with Qandeel Baloch, and police have confirmed that he is under investigation for her killing. Baloch has been described as a Pakistani version of Kim Kardashian whose raunchy photos divided the deeply conservative country, according to Reuters.

Qandeel Baloch
Image Source: Facebook

Social media star allegedly victim of honor killing

Qandeel Baloch was murdered on Friday in Pakistan, igniting fresh debate on the practice known as honor killings. Muhammad Waseem, Baloch’s brother, admitted that he had strangled his sister to death after drugging her. Waseem said that his sister violated the family honor due to her social media posts, which included a number of selfies with Abdul Qavi published last month.

In one video it appears that Qandeel Baloch is sitting on Qavi’s lap. The images led to the cleric’s suspension from a widely-recognized Muslim council.

“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, where Baloch was killed, told Reuters.

Qandeel Baloch Murder Photo
Image Source: Qandeel Baloch’s Facebook Page.

Muslim cleric denies connection to Qaleem Baloch’s death

Qavi denies any link to Baloch’s killing, and has said that he would speak to police if summoned. The cleric said that the death of Qandeel Baloch should be an example to others who try to defame the clergy, and that he had “forgiven her.”

Qandeel Baloch styled herself as a modern day feminist and was proud to push the limits of what is expected of women in Pakistan. She said she wanted to change “the typical orthodox mindset” of the country.

Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, recently wrote on her Facebook page: “I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don’t think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society.”

While religious conservatives criticized her behavior as offensive to the cultural values of Islam, other figures said that she was a “feminist icon.”

Muhammad Aslam, the other brother of Baloch, is also under investigation. Aslam is a junior army officer.

Violence against women a huge problem in Pakistan

In Pakistan “honor killings” claim the lives of over 500 people per year. Almost all of the victims are female, and are generally killed by relatives who believe that “shame” has been brought on the family and must be ended.

The government of Pakistan has condemned honor killings but has done little to end the practice. There have been calls for anti-honor killing laws which would close a legal loophole that lets family members forgive the killers in such cases.

Muhammad Azeem, Baloch’s father, filed papers with the police in the aftermath of her death which claimed that Aslam encouraged Waseem to kill their sister. Police have not made any comment on Aslam’s role in his sister’s death.

Qaleem Baloch built a huge social media following, and used it as a springboard to a successful modeling career. As a result she acted as the breadwinner for her family.

“She was my son, not a daughter. I have lost my son,” Baloch’s father said, according to the English-language Dawn newspaper. “She supported all of us, including my son who killed her.”

Activists and academics call for change

Following criticism for the selfies with Qavi, Qaleem Baloch asked the interior ministry for extra security. Officials denied to provide any help.

Activists have circulated a petition which condemns her death and criticized the media and government for the lack of protection afforded to Baloch, who had received death threats. The petition calls out the “dangerously sexist conditions in this country.”

Groups called for vigils and protests to take place in Karachi and Lahore. The killing has led to soul-searching among academics.

“She symbolizes women’s agency, women’s self and sexual expression and was a challenge to sexual representation politics,” says Sara Haq, a Pakistani-American doctoral candidate at University of Maryland’s Women’s Studies program. Haq believes that this made Qaleem Baloch a target for violence.

She said that the double standard around women needs to change before violence against women can be ended. “Women’s bodies hold this sort of value system, we are the measure of value, the yard stick for men’s respectability and men’s pride, and until that discontinues, I don’t know how to get around this,” says Haq.

Such issues are evident throughout society, but should be addressed in families and wider communities. “It has to do with everything from marriage, the way a woman dresses, sex – it’s all under the umbrella of policing a woman’s sexuality,” she said.