Pakistani court gives life sentence to two over Mashal lynching case

The killing of student Mashal Khan, 23, had sparked a national outcry and raised fresh questions about the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which stipulates the death sentence for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad and is often used to settle personal vendettas. (AFP/File)
Updated 22 March 2019
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Pakistani court gives life sentence to two over Mashal lynching case

  • 2017 murder sparked a national outcry and raised fresh questions about the misuse of blasphemy law
  • Father says verdict will “heal my family’s wounds”

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani court on Thursday awarded life sentences to two people over the campus lynching of a university student who was falsely accused of blasphemy in 2017.

The killing of student Mashal Khan, 23, had sparked a national outcry and raised fresh questions about the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which stipulates the death sentence for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad and is often used to settle personal vendettas.

At least 67 people have been killed in Pakistan over unproven blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to human rights groups. In 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after the governor called for reforming the blasphemy laws.

On Thursday, an anti-terrorism court gave Arif Khan, a local leader from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, and varsity employee Asad Khan Katlang, four counts each of life imprisonment over Mashal Khan’s killing. Two other suspects were acquitted by the court.

“At last justice was accepted and ruled the day,” Iqbal Khan, the father of the victim, told Arab News. “This decision will heal my family’s wounds.”
The written judgment in the case said witness statements and supporting videos, photos and crime scene recoveries had made it “crystal clear” that Arif Khan had provoked and instigated a mob of students against Khan, leading to his lynching.

“The prosecution has been successful to bring home the charges levelled against him [Arif Khan] beyond a shadow of any reasonable doubt,” the judgment said.

In June 2017, a 13-member joint investigation team had concluded that the allegations of blasphemy against Khan were unfounded and were used as a pretext to incite a mob against him. The JIT also revealed that Khan had been vocal about the rights of students at the university and challenged the appointment of a new vice chancellor. Just days before he was lynched, Khan had spoken against the university administration in a TV interview.

Last year, a Pakistani court convicted 31 people over Khan’s campus lynching. A total of 61 suspects were arrested after the murder. The prime accused, Imran Ali, who confessed before a judicial magistrate that he had shot Khan, was sentenced to two counts to death by hanging. Another 25 suspects were awarded four-year sentences each but were later released on bail.


Pakistan urges Taliban, US to refrain from ‘active hostility’ amid peace talks

Updated 20 April 2019
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Pakistan urges Taliban, US to refrain from ‘active hostility’ amid peace talks

  • Foreign office says intra-Afghan dialogue holds key to Afghan peace process
  • Clarifies Pakistan did not participate in recent rounds of talks in Abu Dhabi and Doha

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office has said Pakistan has been playing the role of a facilitator in peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and US officials and urged them both to refrain from hostile engagements.

On Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, expressed disappointment after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed the deep divisions blocking efforts to end the 17-year-long war.

The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.

Up until now the Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government which it considers to be a foreign-appointed puppet regime.

“Pakistan is doing everything in its capacity to facilitate the peace process, and would keep urging both sides to restrain from active hostility,” foreign office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday.

In response to a question by Arab News about the latest round of talks, referred to as the Doha Process, Faisal said: “Let me clarify that there is no such thing as the Doha Process. The last two rounds of talks between the US and Taliban were held in Doha but the earlier round was held in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan has not attended talks in Doha.”

“We facilitated the talks between the US and Taliban in Abu Dhabi and Doha,” Faisal added. “Pakistan will continue to play its role in this regard as a shared responsibility.”

A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha on the weekend. But the event was abruptly canceled amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office has blamed Qatari authorities for the cancellation of the talks, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans”.

The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party”. Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend. The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.

The Taliban said holding a dialogue with the “powerless and crumbling Kabul administration is a waste of time” as their aim was to focus on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.