Women on death row for dancing at wedding are alive, Pakistani court learns
ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
At least two Pakistani women are alive and well after being sentenced to death for purportedly mingling with men and singing at a village wedding, the Supreme Court was told today.
A local cleric sentenced four women and two men to death after mobile phone footage emerged of them enjoying themselves at a party in the mountains of Kohistan, 175 kilometers north of the capital Islamabad.
The men and women had allegedly danced and sung together in Gada village, in defiance of strict tribal customs that separate men and women at weddings.
From the footage itself, however, it is not clear that the men and women celebrated together. Nor are the women shown dancing, but clapping while seated.
Local officials insist the women are safe, but Pakistan's Supreme Court took up the case after reports surfaced that they had been killed.
A senior official from northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told the court that activists confirmed that at least two of the women were alive, but that their families would not allow them to travel in person to the court in Islamabad.
"Two of the girls have been traced. Human Rights activist Farzana Bari met them. She has told me the girls have been identified," said provincial chief secretary Ghulam Dastgir Khan.
Bari was now en route back to Islamabad by helicopter with a video showing the two women to prove that they are safe, he added.
Another human rights activist, Fauzia Saeed, confirmed the details.
"We met one girl. She was identified because we carried pictures of the girls. We met another who we could not identify but people in the area said she is among the women in the video," she told Express TV.
Pakistan's most senior judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said he was ready to send in the army unless he had a clear report on all the women.
"You have half an hour to give us a report, otherwise we will send one of our own officers, then you should be ready to face the consequences," he said.
"We are even ready to provide you troops," he added. "Delay will not help the operation. Either the girls will escape or be killed." Mohammad Afzal, a brother of one of the men in the video, has said the women were killed on May 30 on the orders of a cleric who led a 40 to 50-member tribal jirga.
The entire case has been shrouded in mystery.
Police say the scandal was rooted in tribal rivalry, saying the video was recorded three years ago and then edited in an attempt to implicate the party goers.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says at least 943 women and girls were murdered last year after being accused of defaming their family's honour.
The statistics highlight the violence suffered by many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, where they are frequently treated as second-class citizens.