Pakistani woman 'strangled for helping friend elope'

A Pakistani woman was drugged, strangled and then her body set ablaze because she helped her friend elope, police said on Thursday (May 5), announcing the arrest of 14 people in a twist on the grim practice of "honour killings".

The victim, believed to be around 20 years old, was killed then burned in a Suzuki van on the orders of the village jirga (council) in Makol in northwest Pakistan on April 29, district police chief Khurram Rasheed told AFP."Police have arrested 13 members of the jirga who ordered the murder of the girl," Rasheed said.

The victim's mother was also arrested, he said, because she supported the jirga's decision.

The 14 are due to appear in a local anti-terrorism court Thursday on murder and terrorism charges, he said.

The owner of the van was also a member of the jirga. His van was burned because the eloping woman - who is believed to be safely in hiding - travelled in it when she ran away.

Hundreds of women are murdered by their relatives in Pakistan each year on the pretext of defending family "honour", but it is rare to hear of those who facilitate elopements being killed as well.

Pakistan amended its criminal code in 2005 to prevent men who kill female relatives escaping punishment by pardoning themselves as an "heir" of the victim.

But it is left to a judge's discretion to decide whether to impose a prison sentence when other relatives of the victim forgive the killer - a loophole which critics say remains exploited."A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" - a film telling the story of a rare survivor of an attempted honour killing - won the Academy Award for best documentary short in February.

Amid publicity for the film, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate the "evil" of honour killings but no fresh legislation has been tabled since then.