Lahore - An influential group of Pakistani clerics have issued a fatwa against honour killings, with a spokesperson calling them "unethical and unjustifiable" Monday following a series of attacks on women that have caused national outrage.
The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) said killings such as last week's murder of teenager Zeenat Bibi in Lahore after she married the man of her choice were a "great sin".
The edict was backed by up to 40 clerics in the council, a group of Sunni organisations that wields considerable influence in Pakistan's powerful Punjab province.
Allah has decreed that women should be free to marry whomever they choose so long as both parties are agreed, the SIC's Punjab General Secretary Mufti Saeed Rizvi told AFP on Monday.
"So the killing in a normal or in a brutal way [burning alive etc], as was done to the innocent Zeenat recently in Lahore, is absolutely a great sin. All clerics have severely condemned it and declared it an unlawful, unconstitutional, undemocratic, unethical and unjustifiable act that must be stopped by the state at any cost," he said.
Islam, he said, respects the rights of women, while the issue of honour was based on "illiteracy" and had nothing to do with the religion.
The fatwa also called on the government to draft new legislation to punish those guilty of honour killings within a week, and to launch an awareness campaign.
Hundreds of women are murdered by their relatives in Pakistan each year on the pretext of defending what is seen as family honour.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness - a film telling the story of a rare survivor of an attempted honour killing - won an Oscar for best documentary short in February.
Amid publicity for the film, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate the "evil" of honour killings, but no fresh legislation has been tabled since then.
On Friday, Sharif ordered an investigation into Zeenat Bibi's killing. The same day another Pakistani couple were murdered for marrying without their family's consent.