Revisiting: Death for Dancing and Mobile Phones in Pakistan

// CGCS presents a reaction to a developing story from Pakistan. A short video made its way to from a small village in Pakistan to vast reaches of the Internet depicting young men and women singing and dancing during wedding celebrations – something considered highly illegal and grounds for an immediate death sentence. Regular Media Wire contributor Arzak Kahn explores and contextualizes the situation, as well as its fallout.

Pakistan has seen a rapid growth in mobile phone penetration and with it, the growing opportunity for people from all corners of society to create and share content using video recording functionality, especially with the advent of smart phones. The potential for controversy is inherent in any technology that can disseminate content almost instantly, with often serious social repercussions, as was recently witnessed in Pakistan..

In early June 2012, reports emerged on major broadcast channels that five women living in the Seertaiy village (inside the Pakistani district of Kohistan) had been sentenced to death by tribal assembly. The arrests were reportedly for ‘staining the honor’ of their families by clapping and singing with two men at a wedding ceremony, which had been recorded  on a basic mobile phone. In this conservative village, this was considered a violation of the tribal norms regarding gender segregation.

The video, shot by a guest at the wedding, was later sent to the families of those involved. Seeking protection for his younger brothers now publicly labeled as “fornicators”, Mohammad Afzal sent the film to mainstream media.

The original video can be seen below.


The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan took sou moto notice (took action without prior motion from an attorney, something reserved for cases of extreme controversy) after reports surfaced that the women in the video were killed immediately after condemnation by tribal Jirga. The court instructed the attorney general to find out more about the girls and the fact-finding mission which included human rights activists and members of parliament, soon reported back that the women were alive and well. The case was immediately dropped. Mohammad Afzal, however, claimed that Jirga authorities presented similar-looking girls to the commission which deceived court authorities into believing that the girls were alive.

The issue died down over the next eight months until recently, when Afzal told media outlets at the beginning of January that his three brothers Shah Faisal, SafiudDin and Sher Wali were all killed in an attack by over a dozen armed men acting at the behest of the Jirga.

The rapid growth of mobile phones and the innovation on this vibrant platform in  in developing countries like Pakistan have changed the way people produce and consume media. Younger generations’ participation in creating user generated content is rising and so too, its impact on society, in an often volatile collision of culture, technology, and religion.

In this case, as in many before it,  a video on a mobile phone at a small village wedding set a chain of events in motion, with tragic consequences for the families involved. How the ‘digital revolution’ continues to shape the future of Pakistani society remains to be seen.

//Arzak Khan researches the marketing of human rights, new media, and social movements in the Global South, with a focus on understanding the role played by ICTs in the mediatization of society and the development of ICT infrastructure, broadband strategies and regulation of the Internet.

Arzak blogs on and can be found on twitter as well @ArzakKhan

[show_hide title=”Click for more MediaWire Posts from Arzak Khan“]

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11/30 Balochistan: Journalists Caught in the “Valley of Death”

11/21 The End of Late Night Mobile Packages

10/29 The Future or Funeral of Mobile Phone Industry in Pakistan

10/17 Media Coverage of Taliban’s Attack on Malala Yousafzai

09/12 Internet Evolution at the Crossroads

08/16 Avalanche of Transnational Media in Pakistan [/show_hide]


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