Pakistan: Possible death sentences for dancing at a wedding party

4 June 2012

Pakistani media is bringing confusing reports from northern Pakistan about a tribal court which allegedly handed down death penalty to four women and two men for dancing at a wedding party.

Photo: courtesy of Samaa TV

Rumours said the four women from Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhunkhwa were shot dead by their families. However police and official sources rejected this allegation, and some say the entire story was fabricated.

According to several news media, the furore began in April 2012 when mobile phone video footage showing four women in Gada village singing Kohistani folk songs and clapping for two women of the Salikhel tribe was uploaded to the internet. The video allegedly caused an uproar in the community, which felt the video stained the honour of the tribeswomen.

Two brothers, Bin Yasir and Gul Nazar, were charged for having produced the film and uploading it on an online video sharing site, and elders of the Azad Khel tribe were said to have summoned a jirga at the Seertaiy village, which sentenced the four women and the two men to death because the men and women danced and sang together in defiance of strict tribal customs that separate men and women at weddings.

Conspiracy theory
According to Dawn Newspaper, the cleric Maulana Mohammad Javed Azad who had been charged with issuing the death decree was freed on 30 May 2012 on a local court’s orders, just a few hours after he had been arrested.

“I swear on the Holy Quran that I’ve issued no fatwa (decree) over the last four years nor have I seen any video of dancing women. I just heard about it. The charge of my holding a jirga to issue such a decree is baseless and meant to defame the ulema of Kohistan,” Mohammad Javed Azad told reporters after his release.

“It seems someone is conspiring against the people of Kohistan,” district police officer Abdul Majid Afridi told Dawn Newspaper.
Reports about torture and murder
On 3 June 2012, rumours were circulated that the four women were shot dead on 30 May 2012 by their families in a remote village of UC Peech Bela, Palas tehsil. Another girl was also reportedly killed for being ‘an accomplice’. Other sources said that family members had subjected the women to severe torture – throwing hot water on them, beating them, and keeping them in isolation for two months.
‘Hype on baseless issue’
Hazara Commissioner Khalid Khan Umerzai refuted the reports, saying that the women were safe and secure in their homes. A team of investigators had returned from the remote village after recording the statement of one of the girl’s mother who confirmed that the women were safe. Umerzai also accused the media of creating hype on a baseless issue.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain also said that the reports were “wrong and baseless”. He has directed the Kohistan DCO to send an investigation team to the area.

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The Express Tribune – 7 June 2012:
Facing the music: Performers’ haven threatened in Banr
After dancing rituals became the centre of controversy in Kohistan, the performers’ community of Banr seems to be taking a share of the spotlight. The community, which depends solely on singing and dancing for a living, has been banned by the police from performing the cultural activities in the district. By Fazal Khaliq.


The Express Tribune – 4 June 2012:
‘Jirga injustice: Four Kohistani women, accomplice ‘killed’ for defying customs’

Dawn – 30 May 2012:
‘Kohistan cleric denies decreeing death’

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