On Wednesday, an anti-terrorism court in the Pakistani city of Haripur sentenced one man to death, and five others to life imprisonment, for killing 23-year-old Mashal Khan in a mob violence incident last year. 57 out of 61 verdicts were announced, which took place behind closed doors for security reasons, and about 250 police officials and commandos were deployed.
Imran Sultan Mohammad, who had confessed about shooting Mashal Khan, was sentenced to death by judge Fazal-e-Subhan. Khan was a journalism student in Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University, who was accused of blasphemy, an offense punishable by death in Pakistan, and was killed in mob violence on April 13. Later in June, police investigation revealed it was a false accusation as they found no evidence of blasphemy. Khan was stripped, beaten by dozens of people in the boys hostel, thrown from the second floor and shot dead — which was videographed and posted on social media.
Defense lawyer Saad Abbasi said 25 accused were sentenced to three-year prison, and 26 accused were released free from charges. Mashal Khan’s brother Aimal Khan said, “Our demand was that all of the suspects should have been convicted […] We ask the police to arrest the remaining suspects who are still at large and to bring them to trial.” Police had arrested one suspect recently, who is yet to face the trial.
Last year after the death of Mashal Khan, speaking to BBC Urdu, his father Iqbal Khan said, “This issue is not just about my son. The issue is the mob came to the university, and challenged the government. So the government should question themselves, or do justice.” He had also said, “In this country, freedom of speech, those who speak the truth, is restricted. They cut people’s tongue. So I say they killed [my son], and then accused him [for such a serious crime].” ((hin))
According to police findings, the false accusation of blasphemy was started by a student group after Mashal Khan had critised the university for hiking the fees, asserting corruption in the university. Some students had complained about Khan’s alleged secular views to the university authorities.
Reportedly around a hundred relatives of accused waited outside the premises, for the verdict. “A day will come that the judge will answer the God. The verdict he has announced is unjust”, said a guardian whose son was sentenced to three years’ jail.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the lynching last year and said, “Let it be known to the perpetrators of this act that the state shall not tolerate citizens taking the law in their own hands. No father should have to send his child off to be educated, with the fear of having him return in a coffin.”