Qandeel Baloch, an internet celebrity who had earned the nickname “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” for posting suggestive selfies on Facebook, was strangled to death by her brother Friday night while she slept. Her brother, police report, felt the 26-year-old had “dishonored” their family.
“Qandeel Baloch has been killed, she was strangled to death by her brother, apparently it was an incident of honour killing,” Sultan Azam, a senior police officer in Baloch’s hometown Multan, told AFP. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn notes that Baloch, who had long had a tense relationship with her family, had returned home to spend Eid with her family and see her father, who was allegedly ill.
Baloch, born Fauzia Azeem, had accused her family in her final interview of forcing her to marry a man who abused her and attempted to throw acid on her because she was “cute.”
Speaking to Dawn‘s “Images” feature, she confirmed that she was divorced, forced to marry at age 17. “The abuse I have been through… It happens in places like this, in small villages, in Baloch families. This happened to me too,” she said. “The kind of torture he has inflicted on me, you can’t even imagine. Why? Because I was cute, I was young,” she said.
“‘I’ll burn your face because you’re so beautiful,'” Baloch quoted her ex-husband as stating before attempting to throw acid in her face. He did not succeed, Baloch divorced, and her face became among the nation’s best known.
In that final interview, Baloch said of Pakistan’s Muslim society: “Nothing is good in this society. This mardon ki society (patriarchal society) is bad.” Her fame online, she said, was “my revenge” on Pakistan for the suffering it inflicts on women.
“My family never supported me,” she lamented, noting that she had nonetheless bought them a house from the money she had made in her celebrity.
Baloch grew to international notoriety for posting suggestive – though never nude – selfies online and offering to strip if Pakistan beat India at a cricket game (she ultimately did not do so). Her infamy peaked following images of selfies of her alongside a prominent imam, Mufti Abdul Qavi. She met Qavi in a hotel, where she claimed the cleric had not kept his Ramadan fast properly and had been sexually inappropriate with her. As a result of the meeting, Qavi was demoted from his position of authority as a Muslim cleric.
Baloch received death threats for allegedly harming Qavi’s career by exposing his indiscretions. Three weeks ago, she wrote a letter to Pakistani law enforcement asking them to protect her.
“I need security from you,” she wrote, noting that fear was making her “extremely tense and depressive.”
She insisted, however, that it was necessary for her to expose the “hypocrite” Qavi because of his influential position over Muslims. “I have unveiled a man who was leading the people towards ignorance in the name of Islam. I will continue to unveil this hypocrite face of religious clerics who are defaming our religion and country,” she told reporters following the incident.
She nonetheless continued to post images of herself online with feminist messages.
Baloch recently released her debut music video alongside artist Aryan Khan; her interview with Dawn was, in part, a promotion for the video. She expressed disappointment with how it turned out, and said she would demand better production values next time.
In her final Facebook post, she thanked international media for understanding her, and fans for supporting her despite societal pressure and threats of violence.
Acid attacks, “honor” killings, and other violence against women who do not conform to Sharia law or accept arrange marriages is common in Pakistan. Wives, siblings, daughters, and mothers are all targets, as are men who participate in unauthorized marriages. Qandeel Baloch, a woman who publicly embraced Western ideals of feminism and had participated in exposing a respected Muslim cleric as a hypocrite, was a predictable target.
Dawn has published an obituary serving as a scathing condemnation of Pakistani society. Titled, “Qandeel Baloch is Dead Because We Hate Women Who Don’t Conform,” author Hamna Zubair argues that Baloch’s greatest transgression was not to present herself as a sexually liberated woman, but to demand respect while doing so:
All of this criticism made clear what most Pakistanis thought of Qandeel: they’d tolerate her as long as she was nothing but a sex object, because they were titillated. But as soon as she started entertaining them in the name of women’s rights, she was to be condemned.