Gold Standard

Oscar-nominated documentary pressures Pakistan on 'honor killings'

An Oscar nomination can boost a fledgling career or save a flagging one.

Halfway around the world in Pakistan, there are indications that it may also potentially help save thousands of lives.

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's Oscar-nominated documentary short, "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness," tells the story of Saba Qaiser, a young woman who survived her father and uncle's attempt to murder her in what is known in Pakistan as an "honor killing."

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Qaiser, now 19, had married a man against her family's wishes. Shortly after the wedding, Qaiser's father and uncle found her, took her to a riverbank, shot her in the head, stuffed her in a bag and threw her into the water. Qaiser survived, found help and eventually recovered. But her story was far from finished.

Once police apprehended the father and uncle, Qaiser was pressured to set them free per Pakistan's "forgiveness law," a legal loophole that allows families to forgive the murderers involved in honor killings.

In Pakistan and other Muslim countries, an honor killing can encompass any act that a family member, usually male, considers shameful. In Qaiser's case, it was eloping with a young man she loved.

Pakistan's government believes there are about 1,000 honor killings in the country each year, though other estimates are higher, ranging from 3,000 to 4,000. Obaid-Chinoy's film has put new pressure on Pakistan to recognize the urgency of the problem.

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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may meet with Obaid-Chinoy soon, promising "to rid Pakistan of this evil by bringing in appropriate legislation." He believes the filmmaker's insights could prove "helpful."

Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar in 2012 for her documentary "Saving Face," which followed a plastic surgeon helping Pakistani women disfigured in acid attacks.

"A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" is playing along with the 14 other Oscar-nominated short movies in select theaters. HBO will begin airing it on March 7.

We will update this story as it develops.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

@glennwhipp

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