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Slain Pakistani Social Media Star Remembered As Daring Feminist Rebel

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now a story about a woman in Pakistan who went to remarkable lengths to break down barriers. Her online videos challenged attitudes toward women in her country, and that made her a social media celebrity, but it also proved fatal. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: A protest is underway in Islamabad about the murder of Qandeel Baloch. The turnout's small. In Pakistan, championing a young woman as daring as Qandeel can be dangerous. Anam Abbas is willing to take the risk.

ANAM ABBAS: I'm sick and tired of the violence. I'm sick and tired of women being treated as less than human if they have any type of sexuality. I'm sick of living in the Dark Ages.

REEVES: Qandeel Baloch is a showbiz name. Her real name's Fauzia Azeem. She was 26. She came from poverty, was forced to marry in her teens, left her husband and turned to the Internet for a living.

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FAUZIA AZEEM: (Singing in foreign language).

REEVES: By Western standards, Qandeel's videos and selfies are tame but not in her conservative Islamic nation. A lot of Pakistanis took offense at her sensual dancing and revealing clothes. Yet Qandeel swiftly recruited 750,000 Facebook followers and revealed her mission wasn't just to secure fame and fortune.

MAHVISH AHMAD: I see her as an incredibly brave person.

REEVES: Mahvish Ahmad edits the online feminist magazine Tanqeed.

AHMAD: She has said that she sees her acts as feminist and as a manifestation of girl power. She's been very clear about that in her interviews. At the same time, her performances were also just something she wanted to do.

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REEVES: At a chaotic press conference, Qandeel's brother Wazeem admitted strangling her in bed in the family home.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Wazeem, who's now facing trial, says he feels no remorse. He complained about a video in which his sister appears with a mullah and cheekily puts on the cleric's hat and said her Facebook postings dishonored the Baloch name.

While progressive Pakistanis mourn Qandeel's death, many here do not. Killing a woman in the name of honor is common in Pakistan. Men regularly murder female relatives whom they accuse of violating rigid social norms, and they often go unpunished because of a practice that allows the victim's relatives to forgive the killer. In this case, though, Qandeel's father says he will not forgive and forget. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.