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.