Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) Her name was Ambreen.
She was just 15.
Her alleged crime: Helping a neighbor and her boyfriend elope.
For that, she was dragged from her home, injected with sedatives, strangled, tied up in a van and then burned, Pakistani officials said.
More than a dozen people have been arrested in the brutal and barbaric killing, including the mother of the victim, according to police in Abbottabad, in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
They said the death was a so-called honor killing ordered by a tribal council. CNN does not use that description for these types of slayings.
“The order came after Ambreen’s neighbor, Saima, had eloped with her boyfriend on the 22nd of April,” police Officer Khurram Rasheed said.
The girl’s killing was ordered by a 15-member tribal council, or jirga, which gathered to investigate the elopement, the officer said.
Police escort blindfolded suspects accused in the teen’s killing to court Thursday in Abbottabad.
Some of those council members then carried out the killing, he said.
Police said some also happened to be family members of the girl who had eloped.
Ambreen was kidnapped, strangled with ropes and tied to the back seat of a van and then the van was set on fire, police said. The girl’s charred skeleton was found April 29.
Ambreen’s mother was arrested along with 13 members of the jirga because she allegedly knew about the orders to kill her daughter but did not alert the authorities, Rasheed added.
But Ambreen’s father, Sardar Riasat, disputed that account and said his family was not complicit in the killing.
“My daughter was innocent; she’d quit school after eighth grade, she was only 15 years old,” the laborer said Friday, crying when CNN contacted him.
“My wife is innocent, too. What is this barbarism? How could they do this to my innocent child? I don’t know what to say.”
Police said the couple that eloped have been tracked and are in a safe place. Those arrested will be tried in an anti-terrorism court, officials said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has strongly condemned the killing.
“Such a barbaric act is not only un-Islamic but also inhuman,” Nawaz Sharif said in a statement.
“The culprits must be brought to justice without any delay. Acceptance of such acts in society is unacceptable. (The) criminals should be prosecuted swiftly. It is not honor killing, it’s just plain murder.”
Loud blast heard
CNN teams on the ground near Abbottabad pieced together a report after speaking to witnesses and officials.
Around 3 a.m. local time on April 29, residents heard a loud blast, they told CNN.
People found three vans on fire when they gathered at the scene.
In the back seat of one van was a corpse burned beyond recognition.
They were able to determine the body was a woman’s only by the bangles on the charred skeleton’s hand.
It remained a cold case until a breakthrough Thursday night when police found out the tribal council had ordered the killing.
Renewed attention to tribal practice
The horrific crime has shone further light on the prevalence of these killings in Pakistan.
Around 1,100 women were killed by relatives in Pakistan last year, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission.
The crimes originate from tribal practices and are often meted out as punishment for behavior viewed as bringing dishonor to a family or village.
There has been a complete failure of the state and the society to deal with such crimes, most of which are premeditated, according to Farzana Bari, director of the gender studies center at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
“The criminal justice system is completely not working very effectively,” Bari said. “At the local level people go to the tribal council for their issues. … This is not the first time such a heinous crime is committed against a woman on the order of the tribal council.”
Women are more often the target of such killings, but men can also be victims. In 2014 a young newlywed couple were killed by members of the bride’s family after they married against the family’s wishes.
In February, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s film on the subject, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” won an Oscar for best documentary short and helped bring renewed attention to the practice.
It followed the story of 18-year-old Sabha, who miraculously survived after she was shot, tied in a gurney bag and thrown in a river by her uncle and father for an unsanctioned marriage they thought brought shame on the family.
“To me honor killing is premeditated, cold-blooded murder, but the justification given by men when they kill a woman is that she did something without permission, or that is out of bounds of what society deems is OK for a woman,” Obaid-Chinoy said.
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