Student kills professor on campus over alleged blasphemy

A student at a college in Pakistan's Punjab province killed his professor by stabbing him with knife over alleged blasphemy on 20 March. The student, Khateeb Hussain, has been arrested by the police and has confessed to killing Professor Khalid Hameed, alleging that he spoke against Islam.

The incident happened at Islamia University-affiliated Government Sadiq Egerton College, located in Bahawalpur city – which was established in 1886 during British rule and was named after the then ruler of Bahawalpur state Nawab Sadiq Khan and the lieutenant governor of British-era Punjab Sir Robert Egerton.

The college management had planned a reception for the new students to be held on 21 March and the deceased, Professor Hameed, the head of the English language department, was the person in charge of the event. But Khateeb opposed holding this event because the gathering would involve the mixing of both genders.

Khateeb argued with his professor to abstain from holding this event, saying that intermingling of males and females at an event is against Islam, but the professor did not agree with Khateeb's viewpoint.

The student had been involved in a heated argument with the professor a day earlier and alleged in his confession statement that the professor then spoke against Islam, which he says, "prompted me to bring a knife the next day and stab the blasphemer to death".

Khateeb told police he does not belong to any religious party or any religious movement of students and is satisfied with his action.

Professors demand justice

Abdul Khaliq Nadeem, president of Punjab Professors and Lecturers Association (PPLA), told University World News: "Academic freedom and protection is our right and we have staged many protests in the past to demand our rights. We are teachers and there might be a difference of opinion but that does not warrant killing any person. We demand justice; the murderer of the Bahawalpur professor must be made an example of so that such incidents do not take place in future."

The academic community and independent analysts in Pakistan have been speaking out against extremism on university campuses, but Pakistan authorities realised the gravity of the situation when Mashal Khan, a journalism student of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, was lynched in April 2017 by fellow students on the campus over charges of blasphemy that were later proven false. Also, in June 2018 a number of students were arrested from Pakistan's Karachi city who had connections with militant groups.

Pakistan's interior ministry called a session of the vice-chancellors of universities in March 2018 to analyse the growing trend of campus extremism and to find ways to check it. The then minister of the interior Ahsan Iqbal urged the university leaders to take measures to counter radicalisation and extremism among university students.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) wrote a letter to all universities in September 2017 urging universities' management to institute measures to combat the growth of radicalisation on campuses.

The letter stated: "Some of the recent acts of violence and terrorism in the country have exposed the involvement of university students in such disastrous incidents. This is quite unfortunate and underscores that intolerance, radicalisation and extremism is on the rise, and universities need to challenge this state of affairs.”

In October 2018, Pakistan's National Counter Terrorism Authority and the HEC joined hands to curb extremism on university campuses as they signed a memorandum of understanding and listed many joint activities including research, seminars and the formulation of joint strategies to fight campus extremism.

The Bahawalpur incident on Wednesday has once again refreshed memories of the horrific lynching of Mashal Khan at his university’s campus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. "Freedom of expression is scarce at Pakistani universities and most of the time blasphemy allegations are used to settle scores for other personal reasons," Professor Khalid Rashid of Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University told University World News.

Blasphemy laws criticised

Pakistan's blasphemy laws had been under criticism, but the Bahawalpur killer said in his confession statement that he took the law into his own hands as the government was not implementing those laws and was freeing the blasphemers.

He was referring to the decades-old case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hanging but acquitted on October 2018 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan based on insufficient evidence.

A second judgment by the Anti Terrorism Court in the case of the 2017 Mashal Khan lynching was announced on 21 March. Two of the accused have been acquitted and two others have been awarded life imprisonment. The first judgment in February 2018 handed the death sentence to one accused and life imprisonment to five, with different jail terms for another 25, while acquitting 26 due to lack of evidence. The second verdict came late because these four accused had been absconding.

Coming a day after Wednesday’s killing, the Anti Terrorism Court’s announcement will not change academics’ belief that little has changed in the past two years on the issue of extremist violence on campus.

"We have not achieved anything substantial to counter campus-related extremism except a few seminars and round table discussions," Khalid Rashid told University World News.