BESHAM   -   A district and sessions court Thursday sentenced three people to life imprisonment in the Kohistan ‘honour’ killing scandal while acquitting five others. In 2012, a wedding video emerged from a rural village in Kohistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, showing men and women dancing and singing.  After the video was leaked, a local jirga decreed the participants of violating tribal customs and sentenced them to death.

Five women were killed by the male members of their tribe. A year later, three brothers, seen in the video, were also shot dead. Afzal Kohistani raised the issue and brought the so-called honour killings to media’s attention. For years thereafter, he campaigned for justice, until the Supreme Court took a suo moto notice of the killings in 2016. Eight men were arrested in connection with the crime.

After Thursday’s verdict, Kohistani’s brother, Bin Yasir said that he was satisfied with the court order. “It took so long, but finally we have some kind of justice,” he said. Yasir has been single-handily pursuing the case since Kohistani was murdered. Since 2012, his family has been either killed or displaced.

“At least 40 people were involved in killing of my brothers and the women,” he adds, “I am upset that five people have been acquitted. More people should have been convicted, including the jirga elder who passed the order to kill the women.”

According to BBC, Omar Khan, Sabeer and Saheer were all relatives of five women who are believed to have been killed after they were filmed singing and clapping at a wedding eight years ago. Their bodies were never found. Two men they were with are still in hiding. The video emerged in 2011 which appeared to show the women - Bazeegha, Sereen Jan, Begum Jan and Amina - at a wedding, singing and clapping. A fifth woman - Shaheen, who was under 18 - is also thought to have been present.

It also showed a man dancing - although they were never in the same shot together. A second man is said to have been filming. It was enough, in the remote northern Kohistan district where matters of family honour are settled in blood, to warrant the five women’s deaths. According to local custom, male family members of a woman suspected of an out-of-wedlock liaison - even of a seemingly innocuous nature - should first kill the woman, and then go after the man.

The family of the man would not oppose this action, correspondents say. It meant everyone in the video - which was seen as “breaching the honour” of the women’s family - was in danger. The wider world learned of the video in 2012 when Afzal Kohistani - brother of the two men involved - broke the code of silence to allege the women had been murdered, in order to save his siblings’ lives. Investigators trekked for two days to the remote village and were initially presented with three women the locals claimed were those missing. The claims were later dismissed as false.

It took until 2018 for a judge to finally order a court case into their deaths, with the court in Besham finding Bazigha’s father Sabeer, Seren Jan’s father Saheer and Begum Jan’s brother Omar Khan guilty. Details of the full court judgement are still awaited.

But Afzal Kohistani did not live to see the verdict. His decision to speak out led to three of his other brothers being killed in 2013, while his house was firebombed and destroyed. Six men were convicted of those killings but later acquitted. Then, in 2019, Afzal Kohistani was shot dead in Abbottabad. He had repeatedly raised concerns about his life being in danger. His death led activists to question why he hadn’t been given adequate protection when he was a known target.