Peshawar: A Pakistani anti-terrorism court today sentenced a student to death and five others were given life imprisonment for lynching a 23-year-old university student who was falsely accused of blasphemy. Anti-Terrorism court Judge Fazal-e-Subhan announced the verdict in a jail in Haripur, due to security reasons.
According to the verdict, the prime accused in the case, Imran Ali was sentenced to death. The court had also slapped a fine of one lakh (Pakistani) rupees.
Last April, Mashal Khan, a student of journalism at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan, was dragged out of his university accommodation by a mob of hundreds of his fellow students over rumours, which later proved to be unfounded, that he had posted some blasphemous content on social media.
He was stripped and badly beaten before being shot and his body mutilated. Ali, also a student of the university, had earlier confessed to shooting Mashal.
The court had reserved its verdict on January 30 after recording the statements of 51 witnesses. A total of 57 accused were today presented before the judge, who sentenced 25 to four-year jail term and acquitted 26 others for want of evidence.
Three accused — Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Tehsil Councillor Arif, president of Pakhtoon Students Federation (PSF) Sabir Mayar and Assad Zia, an employee of the university — are still absconding. While one of the accused was arrested on January 4. After the verdict, the victim’s brother, Aimal Khan, demanded the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police to arrest the absconders.
An official said that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will file an appeal in the high court against the acquittal of suspects.
Protests erupted in several Pakistani cities after brutality of the attack, recorded on mobile phone cameras, posted online. It had stunned the public and also led to widespread condemnation, including from prominent Islamic clerics. Students who participated in the lynching were later rounded up after being identified using CCTV footage from the university and video clips.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT), formed on the direction of the Supreme Court, in its report in June 2017 had said that members of the PSF, the student wing of the Awami National Party, incited the mob to kill Mashal on the pretext of blasphemy.
The report said the murder was premeditated as the group was threatened by his activities, because he would raise his voice against irregularities at his university. According to the report, President of university employees, Ajmal Mayar, had revealed during probe that about a month before the incident, PSF President Sabir Mayar and a varsity employee, Asad Katlang, had met him and said they wanted to remove Mashal from their way as he was a threat to their group.
The investigators found no proof of blasphemy and ruled that the murder was politically motivated. Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death in the conservative Muslim country, and mere allegations are often enough to provoke mob violence.
Though the state has never executed anyone under blasphemy laws, but mere allegations have prompted mob lynchings. According to a research by the Centre for Research and Security Studies, 65 have been killed by vigilantes since 1990.