Two sentenced to life over Pakistani student’s lynching

Islamabad: A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Thursday sentenced two more people to life imprisonment over the 2017 lynching of a university student accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook.

Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old mass communications student at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University, was beaten and shot dead on April 13, 2017 by a mob that accused him of posting blasphemous content online, reports Efe news.

“Judge Mehmoodul Hassan Khattak sentenced Asad Katling and Arif Khan to life imprisonment, while two other suspects, Sabir Mayar and Izhar Ullah, were acquitted due to lack of evidence,” said Muhammad Zubair, a spokesperson for the anti-terrorism court in Peshwar.

Katling and Khan, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf councilor, were found guilty on March 12 but the sentence had been reserved by the judge until Thursday.

Mashal Khan’s lynching took place on the university campus and was captured on video, which was later circulated on social media.

In June 2017, a joint investigation team released a report which said it had found no evidence regarding allegations of blasphemy against Khan.

Khan had been outspoken about student rights at the university.

“A total of 61 accused were arrested in the case. In February 2018, an anti-terrorism court in Haripur issued its verdict and awarded different sentences to 31 accused and 26 others were acquitted,” Zubair said.

“The four remaining accused were declared absconders whom the police arrested later and a trial began in the anti-terrorism court in Peshawar,” he added.

The Pakistani anti-blasphemy law was established in the British colonial era to avoid religious clashes, but in the 1980s several reforms promoted by the dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq led to abuse of the law.

Since 1987, there have been more than 1,300 accusations of blasphemy, a crime that in Pakistan can lead to capital punishment, although nobody has ever been executed for it so far.

Asia Bibi has become the face of those accused of blasphemy when she was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused by two women of making offensive comments against the Prophet Muhammad.

In January, an appeal against her October 2018 acquittal was rejected by the Supreme Court, which led to protests across the country.