Qandeel Baloch (Photo: Courtesy of Qandeel Baloch Facebook page)
A Pakistani social media celebrity whose selfies polarised the deeply conservative Muslim country has been murdered by her brother in a suspected honour killing, officials said Saturday, prompting shock and revulsion.
Qandeel Baloch, held up by many of the country's youth for her willingness to break social taboos but condemned and reviled by traditional elements, was strangled near the city of Multan, police said.
"Qandeel Baloch has been killed, she was strangled to death by her brother, apparently it was an incident of honour killing," Sultan Azam, senior police officer in Multan, told AFP.
Baloch, believed to be in her twenties, had travelled with her family from the city of Karachi to Muzzafarabad village in central Punjab province for the recent Eid holiday.
Police were informed by her family that the killing took place on Friday night.
"The brother was also there last night and the family told us that he strangled her to death," Azhar Akram, another senior police official in Multan told AFP, confirming that officials suspected an honour killing.
Police said the brother was now on the run.
Hundreds of women are murdered, often by relatives, for "honour" every year in Pakistan.
The killers often walk free because of a law that allows relatives of the victim to forgive the murderer.
Baloch shot to fame in Pakistan in 2014 after a video of her pouting at the camera and asking "How em looking?" went viral.
Held up by many young people in the country for her liberal views and forthrightness, Baloch -- who posed with mullahs and courted controversy with selfies in plunging dresses -- was also reviled by many and frequently subject to misogynist abuse online.
She had reportedly spoken of leaving the country after Eid out of fear for her safety.
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on the subject, "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" won an Oscar earlier this year, told AFP the murder would make women feel less safe.
"I really feel that no woman is safe in this country, until we start making examples of people, until we start sending men who kill women to jail, unless we literally say there will be no more killing and those who dare will spend the rest of their lives behind bars."
Obaid-Chinoy's film was hailed by Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who in February vowed to push through anti-honour killing legislation.
No action has been taken since then, despite a fresh wave of attacks on women recently that have been roundly and loudly condemned by activists.
"Not only does the bill need to go through but the cases of honour killings all need to be expedited and we start sending people to jail," said Obaid-Chinoy.
"Activists have screamed themselves hoarse. When will it stop?"