Killer of 'blasphemous' student sentenced to death, 30 others get jail time
by Shafique Khokhar

An anti-terrorism court in Haripur announced its verdict today against 57 accused. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used to settle “personal scores”. For one observer, the verdict “is just a first step”.

Abbottabad (AsiaNews) – An anti-terrorism court in Haripur (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) announced its verdict against the killers of Mashal Khan, the Pakistani student lynched to death for allegedly posting blasphemous content on Facebook.

For some activists and some Catholics who spoke to AsiaNews, justice was only partially done since so many of the accused got off scot-free. In their view, as long as the blasphemy law remains, it will be used to settle personal and political scores.

In total, 57 people were tried out of 61 who were accused in connection with last April’s murder.

One of them, Imran Ali, was sentenced to death for shooting the victim. Five other attackers were handed a 25-year sentence whilst another 25 were given three years. The other 25 were acquitted.

The brutal murder of the 23-year-old man caused outrage. The images of the violent beating and the barbarous torture inflicted on his lifeless body by a mob quickly spread on social media.

Mashal Khan was studying mass communication at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan. On the walls of his room, he had written slogans celebrating free speech.

Last June, an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court found that Khan had never said anything untoward about the Prophet Muhammad.

The judicial investigation team noted that Mashal’s death was the product of a plan hatched by members of the university and students to punish him because he had criticised the university over rampant corruption.

For Samson Salamat, president of Rwadari Tehreek, the verdict “is just a first step. We will have and see how the case proceeds in the Supreme Judiciary.”

Despite the video footage showing a lynch mob of least a hundred people, most “of the accused were set free,” Salamat explained. What is more, many of those who “belonged to the ruling political party were not even arrested.

“This is a test case for parliament on how it can stop the blasphemy law.” Unfortunately, the latter has been used against minorities, like in the case with the Christian couple burnt alive in a brick kiln, the incident in Shantinagar in 1997, and the fire that swept Joseph Colony in 2013.

“This verdict has come in the wake of a deteriorating situation in Pakistani society,” said Ata-ur-Rehman Saman, coordinator of the National Justice and Peace Commission. However, the ruling will certainly discourage those who want “to take the law into one’s hands.”

Too many incidents have occurred with impunity, he noted, in places like “Shantinagar, Sangla Hill, Gojra, Badami Bagh Lahore and many others”. Impunity encourages “activities against the weaker sections of the society.”

Rojar Noor Alam, operations manager at Caritas Pakistan, wonders whether "the death of a student can lead to change in the blasphemy law? The question is still open."

The verdict represents “beam of hope” to teach others that “they cannot settle personal scores by taking the law into their own hands.”

The report of the investigative team “clearly indicates the it [the murder] was planned”. This suggests that “the blasphemy law was but a means” to an end. “Let us raise our voices and pray so that no more murder like Mashal Khan’s will take place.”