Death Sentence for Mashal Khan Lynching, 5 Others Given Life Sentences

Death Sentence for Mashal Khan Lynching, 5 Others Given Life Sentences

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) has sentenced one to death and five others to life in prison over the horrific murder of a university student over claims of blasphemy.

Mashal Khan was beaten and shot to death by an angry mob at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University on April 13, 2017, after he was accused of blasphemy – a crime punishable by death in Pakistan.

According to the BBC [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-42970587], on the day of his murder, hundreds of students and even some university staff went through the campus searching for him.  They then broke into his room and dragged him out, beating him until he was dead.

The murder of the 23-year-old mass communications student was caught on camera and the footage subsequently went viral.  Even in Pakistan, where blasphemy is severely punished, the scale and ruthlessness of the mob lynching has left the nation in shock and prompted widespread discussion about the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Following a turbulent judicial process, the ATC in Haripur handed down the sentences to the main perpetrators of the attack on February 7.  Another 25 were also found complicit in Khan’s death and given four years each in prison.

Imran Ali was given two death sentences by hanging for his part in the deadly lynching, one under Section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code and the second under Section 7(1)(a) of the Anti-Terrorism Act.  He previously confessed in court to shooting Mashal.

Bilal Bakhsh, Fazal-i-Raziq, Mujeebullah, Ishfaq Khan and Mudassir Bashir were handed multiple life sentences to be served concurrently.

However, another 26 were acquitted due to lack of evidence and it is the acquittal of so many that has angered Mashal’s family.

Mashal’s father Iqbal told the BBC, “In this country, there is no freedom of expression.  They cut people’s tongues.  They have killed my son and then have laid the blame on him.”

Speaking to DawnNews, Mashal’s mother was equally dissatisfied with the outcome, calling it “very discouraging.”  She said the family planned to challenge the verdict in the high court.

“I am not satisfied with the judgement. All the arrested men were involved in the murder. They all arrived to kill my Mashal and after the killing, they congratulated each other in the video clips,” she said.

Their comments contradict the claim of PTI party leader Faisal Javed, who met the family after the court hearing and told DawnNews that they were apparently satisfied with the outcome.

Mashal’s brother Aimal urged KP police to do everything they could to bring the remaining perpetrators to justice.

Speaking to media after the sentencing, he said he hoped no one would suffer what his family has been through.  He also urged the police to bring all of his brother’s killers to justice.

“My only appeal to the KP police is to arrest the rest of the suspects and bring them to justice as well,” he said.

KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said the KP police were still looking for three suspects and the provincial government planned to appeal against the decision to acquit 26 of the suspects.

Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK, shares the concerns of Mashal’s family.  He expressed surprise that the court had allowed dozens of suspects to walk free despite the evidence against them.

“Mashal’s murder was a terrible crime and it is vitally important that those who took part in or provoked the killing of an innocent person are punished,” he said.

“Some of those who actually celebrated the killing of this innocent young student have been set free and it is therefore no surprise that so many are dissatisfied with the sentences.  They need to believe that complete justice has been done and this acquittal sends a dangerous message of leniency to radicals.

“Even the KP government doesn’t seem to be completely satisfied with the decision.  The KP police must continue to pursue justice until all those who took part in this heinous crime have been held accountable.  If not, we can only expect more tragedies like this in the future.”

The blasphemy laws remain a part of Pakistan’s penal code despite human rights groups like CLAAS-UK pointing out the continued misuse – misuse that so often has fatal consequences for those accused.

Mashal is yet another victim as confirmed by the findings of a 13-member joint investigative team (JIT) formed after his murder to investigate the blasphemy claims that provoked the deadly mob action against him.

Mashal was accused of “publishing blasphemous content online.”  However the investigative team concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations made against him.

Instead, the JIT concluded that Mashal’s death was connected to his outspoken advocacy for student rights and criticism of the university’s leadership, including whether students at his university would be unjustly hindered from obtaining their degrees.

CLAAS-UK’s Nasir Saeed commented: “There have been too many Mashals in Pakistan and so long as the blasphemy laws remain a part of the country’s penal code, there will be many more.  The facts surrounding each victim’s death may differ, but the root cause is the same.  These laws are wide open to abuse because Pakistan’s legal system continues to allow those who abuse the blasphemy laws to walk free while innocent people who did not even commit any blasphemy lose their lives.  People in Pakistan should be free to advocate for the causes that concern them.  They should not have to pay with their lives because they spoke up for basic rights.”

Mr Saeed said action needs to be taken to stop this growing mindset of people who think they have the right to take the law into their own hands where blasphemy is concerned, essentially becoming the judge, jury and executioner.

The Pakistani government must look at how such tragic incidents can be prevented in the future to stop more innocent people from being killed.

He concluded: “I am relieved that in Mashal’s case, justice has been served to some extent, even if not perfectly.  But the authorities must not stop here.  They must ensure that all remaining perpetrators are brought to justice, no matter how long that takes.

“Too many times, the authorities have abandoned investigations or court proceedings out of fear of radicals or simply because they have chosen to turn a blind eye.  We have seen this already in the case of Gojra, where eight Christians were burned to death but nobody was ever convicted, and in the cases of Shama and Shahzad, advocate Rashid and others for whom there is no hope for justice.

“It is the government’s reasonability to ensure justice in all these cases.  But that will never happen so long as it continues to have a dismissive attitude towards the criminal violence being perpetrated under false charges of blasphemy.”

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