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Pakistan appeals court frees brother convicted of 'honour killing' of social media star

FILE PHOTO: Protesters wear masks depicting Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media celebrity who according to police was strangled in what appeared to be an "honour killing" in 2016, in Karachi, Pakistan, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

A Pakistani appeals court on Monday acquitted the brother of social media star Qandeel Baloch of her murder, a 2016 killing that sparked national outrage and changes in laws covering so-called "honour killings".

Muhammad Waseem appealed against his 2019 murder conviction and life sentence. A court in the central city of Multan struck down the conviction after major witnesses retracted their testimony, defence lawyer Sardar Mehboob said without elaborating. A government prosecutor confirmed the acquittal.

His mother had also submitted a statement in the court that she had pardoned him, he added. It was not clear whether the court considered the mother's statement in its decision.

The main amendment in laws dealing with "honour killings" in the conservative Muslim country was that no one could be set free based solely on a pardon by a family member.

Waseem had admitted in a 2016 media conference organised by police that he strangled his 26-year-old sister due to her social media activities.

Baloch had posted Facebook posts in which she spoke of trying to change "the typical orthodox mindset" of people in Pakistan. She faced frequent abuse and death threats but continued to post pictures and videos seen as provocative.

She had built a modelling career on the back of her social media fame, but drew ire from many Pakistanis.

Her killing sent shockwaves across Pakistan and triggered an outpouring of grief on social media, spurring the government to tighten laws dealing with men who would kill a close relative in the name of family honour.

Hundreds of women are killed each year in Pakistan by family members over perceived offences to honour, including elopement, fraternization with men outside marriage or other infractions against conservative Muslim values on female modesty.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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