Samia Sarwar

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Samia Sarwar (1970-6 April 1999) was a Pakistani Pukhtun woman, who was shot dead in her lawyers' office in Lahore in an "honor killing". Samia Sarwar's family belong from Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa and Samia escaped from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and came to Lahore, but she was traced by her family members. The murder was arranged by her mother, father and aunt - because of the shame they felt in her attempt to leave her children and elope with another man while seeking divorce from her husband, her aunt's son (her cousin). Her murder case became noticeable for a number of reasons (see below).

The killing[edit]

The killing took place at a meeting between her mother and Samia at her lawyers' office - her mother enabled the murderer to get access to the meeting, by insisting she had trouble walking and needed assistance.[1]

Samia had been married several years to a cousin, her mother's sister's son—and had suffered continuing violence and abuse. She decided to get a divorce. In the meantime she fell in love with an army captain Nadir Mirza, and requested her family's permission to marry him. Upon their refusal, she left her children and eloped with Nadir, despite her unfinalized divorce.[1] From Peshawar (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) they escaped to Lahore (Province of Punjab). For a few days in Lahore, they stayed at a 5 star hotel, while her family searched for her in Peshawar, NWFP. Soon Nadir and Samia ran out of money, she then contacted her relatives to request money, who reported her whereabouts to her parents.

Upon lack of support from relatives to provide money and shelter, Nadir went back to work in Peshawar, and Samia took refuge in Dastak, a shelter for women in Lahore. Unable to return home, Samia stayed at Dastak while waiting for her divorce.

Samia's mother sought permission to see her at Dastak by claiming that the family had accepted her relationship with Nadir. She was accompanied by a man whom Samia didn't recognize. He was there ostensibly to help her frail mother walk. Once in the lawyer's office the man pulled out a gun and shot Samia dead.[1]

Aftermath[edit]

Nadir was dismissed from the army on the basis of irresponsible behavior, and left the country soon after. He is believed to be residing in Britain, and is married with two children.[1]

Despite public protests and demonstrations, Pakistani authorities have yet to make arrests in the case.[2]

The case is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, some claim (such as James Emery, Anthropologist at Metropolitan State College of Denver, USA[3]) that honour killings only occur among rural or uneducated groups - whereas Samia's mother was a doctor - and her father Ghulam Sarwar Khan Mohmand, a wealthy businessman and head of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce.[2][4]

Death threats and fatwas against the lawyers[edit]

The two renowned activists, Hina Jilani and Asma Jehangir, were threatened with death for their defense of Samia murdered by her family for trying to obtain a divorce.

Ironically, Ms. Jehangir is also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings.

The death threats were issued by a number of religious groups, most notably the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.[5]

Award winning BBC documentary[edit]

An award winning BBC documentary 'Licence to Kill' covered Samia and other honour killing cases: and was winner of the RTS 2001 (Best TV journalism). This programme was first broadcast on Saturday 25 March 2000.

Licence to Kill is the follow-up to 1999's award-winning documentary, Murder in Purdah, on the killing of women in Pakistan.

While Murder in Purdah showed how casually women are killed in Pakistan, Licence to Kill shows how state institutions endorse such killings and allow the killers to escape without punishment.

The BBC programme notes: "The Pakistan Penal Code, amended in 1990 to embrace Islamic principles, has made it easier for those who kill women to get away with it".

Murder in Purdah won the Peabody award for journalism, the George Polk Award for television, the Johns Hopkins University Award and a New York TV medal. Also shown at Cannes Film Festival in May 2000.

Both films were selected for cinema screening at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London March 2000.[6]

A 2 minute video clip from the film, telling Samia's story, is available on the BBC website[7]

Political consequences at the Pakistani Senate[edit]

After the murder, Senator Syed Iqbal Haider of the Pakistan Peoples Party, supported by 19 fellow Senators, framed a resolution condemning the practice of 'honour killings.' Iqbal had to amend the wording of the resolution four times, as supporting Senators became fewer. On the day, the majority of the Upper House opposed the resolution, Senator Ajmal Khattak claiming that when it is a question of 'honour,' there is no room even for discussion. Chairman Rhodes Scholar Wasim Sajjad ruled that there could be no discussion on the matter. The resolution was not tabled.[8]

References[edit]