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Influential Pakistani Clerics Issue Fatwa Against Honor Killings

Relatives comfort Hassan Khan (center), the husband of a teenage girl who was burned alive by her mother, in Lahore, Pakistan.

An influential group of Pakistani clerics has issued a fatwa against honor killings after a series of attacks on women that have provoked national outrage.

The Sunni Ittehad Council said killings such as last week's murder in Lahore of teenager Zeenat Bibi by her mother, who burned her alive after she eloped with a young man, are a "great sin."

"It seems we are moving toward an age of barbarism," the council, which includes more than 100 clerics, said on June 13 in a rare edict on the problem. "Burning women alive for marrying by their choice is against the teachings of Islam."

The fatwa calls on the government to punish those guilty of honor killings.

Hundreds of women are murdered each year by their relatives in Pakistan, defending what they see as family honor. Most suspects are never prosecuted.

But awareness is growing. A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness -- a film telling the story of a rare survivor of an attempted honor killing -- won an Academy Award in February.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif afterward vowed to eradicate honor killings. He ordered an investigation into Zeenat Bibi's killing. But the same day another Pakistani couple was murdered for marrying without their family's consent.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP