A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament this week to spare him their outrage.
"These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them," Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, said Saturday. "Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid."
The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch.
They were still breathing as their bodies were covered with rocks and mud, according media reports and human rights activists, who said their only "crime" was that they wished to marry men of their own choosing.
Zehri told a packed and flabbergasted Parliament on Friday that Baluch tribal traditions helped stop obscenity and then asked fellow lawmakers not to make a big fuss about it.
Many stood up in protest, saying the executions were "barbaric" and demanding that discussions continue Monday. But a handful said it was an internal matter of the deeply conservative province.
"I was shocked," said lawmaker Nilofar Bakhtiar, who pushed for legislation calling for perpetrators of so-called honor killings to be punished when she served as minister of women's affairs under the last government.
"I feel that we've gone back to the starting point again," she said. "It's really sad for me."
The incident allegedly occurred one month ago in Baba Kot, a remote village in Jafferabad district, after the women decided to defy tribal elders and arrange marriages in a civil court, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.
They were said to have been abducted at gunpoint by six men, forced into a vehicle and taken to a remote field, where they were beaten, shot and then buried alive, it said, accusing local authorities of trying to hush up the killings.
One of perpetrators was allegedly related to a top provincial official, it said.
Accounts about the killings have varied, largely because police in the tribal region have been uncooperative. Activists and lawmakers said a more thorough investigation needed to be carried out.
The Asian Human Rights Commission, however, said the two older women may have been related to some of the teenage girls and were apparently murdered because they were sympathetic to their wishes.