HARIPUR (Pakistan) – A Pakistani court – Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) – on Wednesday announced its verdict in the Mashal Khan lynching case, 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.
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.
Parents are not happy
Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan said he did not feel justice had been delivered, as the court acquitted 26 suspects despite video evidence. The victim’s mother 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.
Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, whose party rules the province, sent party leader Faisal Javed to visit Mashal’s family on his behalf.