ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police announced Friday that all five suspects in the brutal killing of a 19-year-old schoolteacher who was tortured, doused with gasoline and set on fire earlier this week for refusing to marry a man twice her age are now in custody.
Before she died, Maria Bibi had given a statement to police, saying five attackers had stormed her house in the town of Upper Dewal on Monday, dragged her to an open area and kicked her as though she were a "football."
She was brought to Islamabad hospital in critical condition and later died. The attackers fled after the assault. Bibi's family has maintained that she was killed for rejecting a marriage proposal from a man who owned a school and wanted her to marry his son.
The case has shocked the nation though violence against women is not uncommon in Pakistan, where nearly 1,000 women are killed each year in so-called "honor killings" for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage
Police official Waheed Ahmed said Friday that three more suspects in the case were arrested early in the morning, following the two arrests made the day before.
He identified the prime suspect in the case as Shaukat, the owner of the school who is nearly 60 years old and whose son, a man about 40 years old and already married, was the intended groom.
"The unfortunate woman Maria Bibi in her statement insisted that Shaukat and four other men dragged her from the door of her home and tortured and burned her. We have arrested all the five men," Ahmed said.
Bibi's father Sadaqat Hussain Abbas praised the police for the arrests and asked the government in an emotional plea on Friday to execute the men in his family's presence in the same way they had killed Bibi.
Demands like this are common but Pakistani law doesn't allow for such punishment.
Zohra Yusuf, who heads the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, condemned the incident and warned of an increase in assaults on women.
"As women are increasingly fighting for their rights, the reaction from the male-dominated society has been extreme, and we have witnessed an increase in violence against women," she told The Associated Press.
Last month, police arrested 13 members of a local tribal council who allegedly strangled a local girl and set her body on fire for helping one of her friends elope.
The charred body of 17-year-old Ambreen Riasat was found in a burned van in the tourist resort of Donga Gali on April 29.
And in 2012, Pakistani teenage activist and later Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban on her way home from school. The militants targeted her because she advocated education for women.