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Pakistan 'Dancing' Video Sends Threatening Message

  • Abubakar Siddique

News of the mobile-phone video spread like wildfire, fueled by inaccuracies and sensationalism until it was out of control.

News of the mobile-phone video spread like wildfire, fueled by inaccuracies and sensationalism until it was out of control.

In Pakistan's remote mountain communities, the smallest spark can expose and rekindle long-raging clan disputes.

That appears to be the case with the furor caused by a homemade video depicting unrelated men and women fraternizing at a wedding, a taboo taken deadly seriously in the country's religiously conservative northwest.

News of the mobile-phone video spread like wildfire, fueled by inaccuracies and sensationalism until it was out of control.

Reports emerged that the video had resulted in a tribal death sentence against the four women and two men shown in the video.

Soon international media picked up on the story, adding to a media frenzy that caught the attention of the Pakistani government. Calls were made in the parliament for an a high-level inquiry.

More reports followed, saying that the cleric who issued the death sentence had been arrested.

'Evil' Editing Gives False Impression

The only problem is that little of the story is true: there was a video, it showed people at a wedding. But the men and women were never shown together, and different scenes appear to have been spliced together, according to Abdul Majid Afridi, police chief in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province's Kohistan district.

Gender separation is taken deadly seriously in Pakistan's conservative northwest.

Gender separation is taken deadly seriously in Pakistan's conservative northwest.

"The video first shows four women who are dressed well [for a wedding] and they are singing some song for a happy occasion. They are apparently aware that they are being filmed. Then a young man is shown sitting and laughing alone," Afridi says.

"You don't see the women in that shot. Afterward you see another young man dancing. Again the women and the other young man cannot be seen. I think the women's video was made during a wedding," he concludes. "Somebody with an evil motive got a hold of it and combined it with the other shots."

Addressing the question of who would have such a motive, Afridi suggests that long-standing clan rivalries could be to blame. The region is rife with disputes and feuds over land, forests, and family honor, he notes. Someone, it seems, wanted to shame the men and women in the video.

Media To Blame?

As holes in the story emerged, questions of media accountability were raised.

Afridi says that police investigations have determined that, despite reports to the contrary, no tribal council was ever called to rule on the case, no death sentence was issued, and no cleric was ever arrested.

As the smoke clears only one thing is readily obvious -- those shown in the video are in danger of reprisal. And according to Afridi, many believe the media is to blame.

"The locals are complaining that the media has done a great injustice to them because their focus and [misreporting] has turned it into a very big issue," the police chief says.

Some private Pakistani television stations repeatedly showed the video without verifying its authenticity or worrying about the potential harm it could bring.

That has left locals -- who say that the men in the video are brothers, and the four women sisters -- to discuss the irreparable damage done to their families' social standing.

Local police, meanwhile, are left hoping that the incident will not spark one of the innumerable local feuds and spiral into deadly violence.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent Riaz Gul in Islamabad

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