Death sentence handed down for campus student lynching

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has handed down a death sentence and 25-year sentences to five others for the horrific lynching last April of a student on the campus of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan.

The court verdict comes almost 10 months after the outspoken student Mashal Khan was beaten, stripped and killed by a mob of fellow students on the university’s campus, claiming he had committed blasphemy.

Announcing its verdict on Wednesday against 57 people accused of the lynching, the Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced Imran Ali to death, sentenced five others to 25 years in jail, and a further 25 to four years’ jail. The court acquitted 26 people in the case.

During the trial Imran Ali pleaded guilty to shooting Mashal Khan.

An initial investigation after the incident, which shocked the country and sparked international condemnation including from the United Nations, found that blasphemy accusations against Mashal Khan were unfounded, and that he was mercilessly beaten and killed for being vocal against irregularities at his university, including on a local television programme.

Some of the 50 people providing testimony to the court said the victim had angered the university administration by criticising their management of the institution.

University officials said they did everything in their power to save Mashal Khan and co-operated fully with the police inquiry.

Mixed reaction

The judgment had a mixed reception in the country. Strong sentences were seen as necessary to help curb campus extremism; however many believe none of the accused should have been acquitted, while some Islamic groups have said those sentenced should be freed.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province where the Mardan city campus is situated, has decided to file a court appeal against the 26 acquittals, which caused an uproar among academics and the public as the accused were allegedly clearly visible in mobile phone video evidence handed to the court.

Muhammad Asif Khan, vice-chancellor of the University of Peshawar, told University World News: "We welcome the court verdict against the inhumane killing of an innocent student but all those spotted in a mobile phone video of the mob who lynched Mashal must be punished."

Mashal Khan’s family has demanded the re-arrest of the acquitted men. Talking to the media after the verdict, which was made public almost a week after the completion of the court hearing, Mashal's brother Aimal Khan told the media, "all the accused deserved punishment as they all were part of the mob who killed my brother".

In Swabi city, Mashal Khan’s family home town, the victim’s mother, Syeda Gulzar Begum, said: "It is an incomplete justice. We need full justice," and she questioned "how the court released [some] killers who broke my son's head, hands, shoulders on camera?", the Urdu-language news channel, Samaa TV, reported.

Mashal Khan's family has vowed to file an appeal in the higher court against the acquittal of the 26 accused by the Anti-Terrorism Court, which announced the reserved judgment in Haripur city amid tight security.

However, in an indication that the verdict has divided opinion, an Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) headed by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman staged a protest in Mardan city, chanting slogans against Mashal Khan and protesting against the hanging verdict for Imran Ali and the jailing of others. They welcomed the freeing of the acquitted 26, calling them ‘heroes’.

They warned of more protests if the sentenced persons are not freed. Shuja-ul-Mulk, provincial secretary general of the party, while talking to the media vowed to challenge the verdict in a higher court to get the sentenced persons freed.