University officials linked to lynching of student

Pakistan's apex court has started hearing the case of horrific lynching of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old Mass Communication student of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north-west.

On 13 April, members of a large religiously motivated mob of students, claiming Mashal had committed blasphemy, stripped, beat and shot him, before dragging his dead body through the campus, with the intention of burning it. At this point the police arrived and brought the mob under control.

The Supreme Court had taken suo moto notice of the incident on 16 April after an influx of news about the horrendous lynching and condemnation from across the world. The apex court constituted a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar, and started hearing the case from 19 April.

The court has halted the formation of a judicial commission, which Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, had announced earlier. Chief Justice Nisar observed that with the case being heard in the top court, there was no need to set up any other judicial commission, and offered assurance that justice will be ensured.

Vice-Chancellor of Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, Professor Javed Ashraf, told University World News: "The entire academic community in Pakistan is in shock over the merciless killing of Mashal Khan. The rising trend of extremism within the campuses is dangerous for the academic environment. We, the academics, demand a speedy trial of this case for exemplary punishment to the perpetrators of this heinous crime."

Ashraf stressed that only exemplary punishment can help stop these kind of incidents in the universities.

Arrests by the police in the lynching case continue. So far, 24 people have been apprehended and seven arrested students have confessed to their involvement in Mashal's killing before an Anti-Terrorism Court. According to the initial reports of the investigation, police confirmed that Mashal Khan did not commit any blasphemy and that no such material was found from his social media accounts including Facebook.

Mashal Khan had previously criticised the administration of the university for poor management of examinations on a Khyber TV programme. Police have already arrested some of the university employees. No official was available from Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan to comment on the incident.

A Samaa television report quoted an arrested student named Wajahat, who confessed to being part of the attempt to accuse Mashal Khan of blasphemy, saying that he gave a speech on university premises against Mashal Khan and other students, acting on directions given by the university administration, and that this provoked the mob.

"I was threatened [with] serious consequences in case I did not testify being witness that Mashal committed blasphemy," he told Geo TV.

Abdullah (one of the three students accused of blasphemy), who was beaten on the university campus but survived, told the Court of the Magistrate that he had been asked to testify against Mashal Khan but refused.

Condemnation from across the world

Condemnation of the lynching poured in from across the world. The United Nations resident coordinator in Pakistan condemned the incident in strongest words while the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, on 15 April, asked the nation to unite against such practices.

"I am shocked and saddened by the senseless display of mob justice that resulted in the murder of a young student... No father should have to send his child off to be educated, with the fear of having him return in a coffin... The state will never tolerate those who take the law in their own hands," Prime Minister Sharif said, according to English daily Dawn.

All political leaders of the country have spoken against the inhuman killing of the innocent student. The defence minister in a message posted on Twitter said: "Falsely accusing someone of blasphemy without verification is also blasphemy."

Imran Khan, the famous cricketer-turned-politician who heads Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party which rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, termed the murder of Mashal Khan “gruesome”. He said: "Blasphemy allegations have been used to target the innocent student". In a statement to the media he offered assurances that his party's government in the province would take firm action against the culprits of this “heinous crime”.

Girls education activist, Nobel Laureate and youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai condemned the incident, saying such acts must stop as these defame our country. She called for immediate action against those involved in the shocking murder of the university student.

"Today I heard about the death of Mashal Khan. It is a very agonising incident. This incident has brought disgrace to our nation. I urge people to know your religion, values and culture which aim at peace and tolerance," Malala told Geo News TV.

"We complain of Islamophobia and say that other nations are disgracing us. No one is doing that. It is us who are giving a bad name to our country," Malala said.

The Senate, the upper house of Pakistan's parliament on 17 April called for a review of the blasphemy law. The senators demanded that the government amend the law to stop its misuse and suggested that there should be punishment for false allegation of blasphemy.

The following day the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament, passed a resolution demanding that the federal and provincial governments take stern action against perpetrators of the inhuman killing of Mashal Khan.

The resolution states: "This House unanimously condemns the barbaric and cold-blooded murder of Mashal Khan and resolves to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the Blasphemy Law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in future, including by mobs involved in such crime."

Police have stated that, as per the initial probe, there is no proof that deceased Mashal Khan posted any type of blasphemous content. "There is nothing concrete to suggest that Mashal, Abdullah or Zubair had committed blasphemy, according to the investigation," Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Police, Salahuddin Khan, told journalists in a press conference on 16 April.

Earlier, civil society organisations staged demonstrations in many cities of the country to condemn the lynching of the university student and demanded immediate justice. The civil society representatives also demanded a review of the blasphemy law.