PESHAWAR: A Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) announced its verdict in the Mashal Khan lynching case on Wednesday, handing one person two death sentences, five persons multiple terms of life imprisonment, and 25 others jail sentences, but acquitting 26 others for want of sufficient evidence.
Mashal Khan, 23, a student of Mass Communications at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University, was beaten and shot to death by an angry mob on April 13, 2017, after he was accused of blasphemy.
The lynching took place within the premises of the university and was caught on video which later circulated on social media. The horrific incident shocked the nation and sparked a debate over the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
Of the total 61 suspected of involvement in the lynching ─ the majority of them students and university employees and a tehsil councillor belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ─ charged in the first information report, 57 had been arrested within a few days of the incident.
A 58th suspect who was arrested in Jan 2018 has yet to be charged.
Prime accused Imran Ali, who had earlier confessed to shooting Mashal before a judicial magistrate, was sentenced on two counts to death by hanging.
He was handed a death sentence under Section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), and another death sentence along with a Rs100,000 fine under Section 7(1)(a) of the Anti Terrorism Act.
Separately, he was awarded five years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 15 AA-KPK, along with a fine of Rs50,000.
Bilal Bakhsh, Fazal-i-Raziq, Mujeebullah, Ishfaq Khan and Mudassir Bashir are the five accused handed multiple life sentences.
Raziq, Mujeeb, Ishfaq were each given four sentences comprising life imprisonment under Sections 302(b), 148 and 149 of the PPC; life imprisonment under Section 7(1)(a) ATA with a Rs100,000 fine; one year in jail and a Rs50,000 fine; three years of rigorous imprisonment and a Rs50,000 fine.
Bakhsh and Bashir were each given five sentences comprising: life imprisonment under Section 302(b) read with Sections 148 and 149 of the PPC; life imprisonment and a Rs50,000 fine under Section 7(a) of the ATA; life imprisonment and a Rs50,000 fine under Section 120(b); three years of rigorous imprisonment and a Rs50,000 fine under Section 11-WW of the ATA; and one year of rigorous imprisonment and a Rs50,000 fine under Section 297 of the PPC.
Three years in jail
Twenty five convicts were each given two concurrent sentences; three years in jail under Sections 297 read with Sections 148 and 149 of the PPC along with a Rs50,000 fine; and one year in jail under Section 11-WW ATA along with a fine of Rs50,000.
All sentences are concurrent, which means that the longest sentence will be the maximum time period of imprisonment. In case of non-payment of fine under any of the sentences, six months will be added to the sentence.
ATC Judge Fazal Khan Subhan, who read out the verdicts against each of the 57 accused presented before the court today, also said that relief under Section 382(B) of the Criminal Procedures Code would be extended to the convicts, which means the length of the imprisonment sentences shall be treated as having been served for the period for which the accused have already been in custody.
The judge also said those acquitted were not proved to have played a role in the lynching of the Mardan university student.
The convicts have been given 15 days to challenge the verdict. A counsel for the defendants said they would challenge the ATC’s verdict on Thursday.
‘Justice not delivered’
Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan, while speaking to BBC Urdu, said he did not feel justice had been delivered, as the court acquitted 26 suspects despite video evidence.
The victim’s mother, while speaking to DawnNews soon after the verdict was announced, said she was not satisfied with the judgement.
“I am not satisfied with the judgement. All the arrested men were involved in the murder. They all arrived to kill my Mashal and after the killing, they congratulated each other in the video clips,” she said.
She added that the verdict had been “very discouraging” and that the family would challenge it in the high court.
“We will challenge the verdict in the high court within 7 days,” the counsel for Mashal’s family said.
KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said the provincial government would appeal against the acquittal of 26 people. He added that the KP Police is trying to arrest three absconding suspects.
‘Hope no one else suffers this way’
Speaking to the media outside the courtroom as the verdict was being read out, Mashal’s brother Aimal said that he hoped no one ever has to go through the ordeal his family suffered.
“We will consult our lawyers and see if we are satisfied with the verdict,” Aimal said, adding: “My only appeal to the KP police is to arrest the rest of the suspects and bring them to justice as well.”
Aimal said the family had not received any threats as the verdict was announced. He expressed satisfaction with security arrangements made for the family.
Extra security arrangements have been made due to the sensitivity of the case, with roads leading to jail closed off. The jail administration has also banned the entry of visitors, and provided security to Mashal’s family at their residence.
“Imran Khan had promised he would rename Swabi University after Mashal Khan, but that has yet to happen. We appeal to him to fulfil his promise,” Aimal said.
“Mashal was not an ordinary person, he was a visionary. This is the least they [the government] can do to honour him.”
However, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak claimed no such promise had been made. He said that the government could not interfere in the university’s matters since the institute’s board decides such matters.
The family and lawyers of Iqbal Khan, Mashal’s father, are hopeful that they will get justice. “The case is very strong. Police have provided strong evidence, including videos, of the incident,” Fazl Khan, Iqbal’s lawyer told media earlier.
Iqbal is in London, while Mashal’s mother and sisters are in Swabi and will stay there due to security concerns.
Blasphemy allegations against Mashal baseless: JIT
In June 2017, a 13-member joint investigation team — that was formed to investigate the murder — concluded in its report that the allegations of blasphemy against Mashal were unfounded and were used as a pretext to incite a mob against the slain student.
The JIT report had said that Mashal was murdered in line with a plan allegedly hatched by Sabir Mayar, the president of the Pakhtun Students Federation (PSF) and Ajmal, the president of the employees at AWKU, where Mashal was studying Mass Communication.
Mashal had been vocal about the rights of students at the university and even challenged the appointment of a new vice chancellor (VC) at the university to ensure that students were able to obtain their degrees, which is not possible without the VC’s signature, the report had added.
Days before he was lynched by the mob, Mashal in an interview to Khyber news channel, had spoken against activities at the university and the administration.
The investigation revealed that illegal and criminal activities persisted in the university hostel and female students were also exploited in the university.
According to the report, Mayar viewed Mashal’s stance against activities on campus to be a threat to the PSF.
The case regarding his murder was supposed to be heard in an ATC in Mardan.
However, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) transferred it to a court in Haripur Jail on the request of Mashal’s father who feared that his “influential adversaries” would try to sabotage the case proceedings.
The court started hearing the case in September last year after indicting 57 arrested suspects.
The prosecution had presented video clips and pictures of Mashal’s lynching in the ATC as evidence that the [suspects] were involved in his murder.
The verdict in the case was reserved on January 27 after the court concluded the hearing of the case.
The court completed the hearing of the case in five months and 10 days.
By Sirajuddin | Ali Akbar – DN