This is how feudalism denied justice to slain female journalist in Lahore

Arooj Iqbal wanted to be the first Pakistani woman journalist to create her own newspaper. A dream which was shattered when she was shot dead in the eastern city of Lahore on 25th November, 2019.

Before her death, Arooj founded a local newspaper by the name of Choice. But before the publication’s first issue can roll out she was found lifeless in a street of Lahore.

Arooj’s brother, Yasir Iqbal was the first one to receive the tragic news. According to Yasir, Arooj’s murderer was none other than her ex-husband, Dilawar Ali.

Dilawar is the owner of Anti-Crime, a newspaper specializing in crime stories for which Arooj used to work.

“He wanted her to drop the idea of launching her own local newspaper,” says Yasir.

“I am dead sure that Dilawar killed my sister or had her killed.”

One can clearly sense the helplessness of a female journalist in Pakistan as three days before her death Arooj filed a complaint at the same police station accusing Dilawar of beating and mistreating her.

She visited her family the next day and told them she was scared because Dilawar had threatened to kill her.

Despite all the evidence against him, Dilawar was never arrested or charged. He provided the police with an alibi.

He claims that he was in the Maldives on the evening that Arooj was murdered and did not return to Pakistan until the next day, 26 November.

With a cunning mind and threatening motives, Dilawar’s secondary target were Arooj’s family member.

Yasir became the target of threats shortly after filing his complaint accusing Dilawar.

“I was constantly receiving threats from Dilawar and his associates, and my younger brother was even confronted on a road by a group of thugs who told him there would be dire consequences if I did not back off.”

To avoid any possibility of being charged in connection with Arooj’s murder, Dilawar developed a two-fold strategy.

He used death threats to terrorize her brothers and mother while at the same time taking advantage of his contacts within the provincial parliament.

He approached a member of Punjab Legislative Assembly, Chaudhry Shabbaz, and asked him to use his influence on the family and get them to accept an out-of-court settlement.

The pathetic feudal system knowns as “panchayat,” was used to give an escape route to Dilawar. It is a system that the rich and powerful often use to escape criminal justice.

Just Six weeks after the murder, on 15 January 2020, an agreement was signed by Arooj’s brother Yasir, by her mother, Tahira Begum, and by the leading suspect, Dilawar Ali. 

At one point, it says: “I hereby swear that my family and I regard Party No. 2 [Dilawar Ali] as the culprit, that he killed my sister Arooj Iqbal or had her killed. In Panchayat, Party No.1 [Yasir] and his family decide that they all forgive Party No. 2 so that he may obtain God’s clemency. Signed: Yasir Iqbal.”

It was this form of agreement that Yasir Iqbal was forced to accept. The compensation for his sister’s murder was 1 million rupees, about 5,200 euros, the sum he received from Dilawar Ali.

He said he signed the agreement very reluctantly.

“Why did we sign?” he said.

“Because Dilawar was threatening us so much, because we were completely vulnerable and because we had found the [justice] system to be completely ineffective.”

When the murder of a woman journalist is treated as an honour crime that can be settled by means of a financial payment, what role is left for the legitimate authorities? To defend women who are the victims of violence in their home or at work.

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