ISLAMABAD—Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, who recently stirred controversy by posting pictures of herself with a prominent Muslim cleric, was strangled to death by her brother, police said Saturday.
Her parents told police one of her six brothers strangled her to death as she slept in the family’s home in Multan, police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar told The Associated Press.
Multan police chief Akram Azhar said police were searching for the brother, identified by the family as Waseem Azeem, who runs a local cellular phone shop.
“Apparently the lady died of suffocation but final opinion on her death would be possible only after report of chemical examination comes,” said Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed, who was among the team that conducted Baloch’s autopsy. “She might have been given some poisonous substance before being strangled.”
Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, shot to fame and notoriety with a series of social media postings that would be tame by Western standards but were deeply scandalous by conservative Pakistani societal norms. She cultivated an outrageous public persona, recently promising to perform a public striptease if the Pakistani cricket team won a major tournament.
Baloch built up a large social media fanbase, with 40,000 Twitter followers and more than 700,000 followers on her official Facebook page. Baloch danced in a racy (again by Pakistani standards) video for a popular rap song that immediately went viral. In postings and public comments, she presented herself as a symbol of female empowerment in a country where domestic violence is commonplace and hundreds of women are murdered by family members each year in so-called honor killings.
On Friday, the day she was killed, she posted a picture with the message, “No Matter how many times I will be pushed down under... But I’m Fighter I will Bounce back.”
On July 14, she posted the following: “As a women we must stand up for ourselves... As a women we must stand up for each other... As a women we must stand up for justice. I believe I am a modern day feminist. I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don’t think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM. :)”
Most recently, Baloch became embroiled in public scandal when she posted selfies with Mufti Adbul Qavi, a prominent cleric, in a Karachi hotel room during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. In one picture, she is wearing the cleric’s trademark fur-lined hat.
Qavi maintained that he only met with her to discuss the teachings of Islam. But the government suspended Qavi and removed him from the official moon-sighting committee that determines when Ramadan starts and ends in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.
In the wake of that scandal, Baloch said she had received death threats and asked for Interior Ministry protection.