Published On: Mon, Feb 12th, 2018

An encouraging verdict

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The court verdict in Mashal Khan lynching case is encouraging but more encouraging that the government has declared its intention to file an appeal against the acquittals of some of the accused.

It was a mob killing and anyone involved in the killing in one way or another must be brought to justice.

There should be no ambiguity allowed on the fact that a tremendously brave young man was brutally killed by liars and bigots.

As a matter of fact, the lunching mob in a university was shocking enough. But in the hours and days after Mashal Khan’s tragic and vile murder, the true dimensions of the horrifying crime became apparent – a young man brutally murdered in an institution of higher learning after a lie was deliberately spread that he had committed blasphemy in alleged posts on social media.

The lie was invented by members of the university who were threatened by Mashal’s courageous activism on issues ranging from alleged corruption in the university to a hike in university fees.

Everything the public has come to learn about Mashal since the despicable murder has shown him to be an exemplary university student and an upright, morally conscious citizen. April 13, 2017, was a dark day in the country’s history.

So it is with some relief, though mixed with concern, that the first phase in the quest for justice for Mashal has concluded.

One death sentence, five life sentences, 25 three-year imprisonments and 26 acquittals are itself evidence of the sheer number of people involved in the crime and the difficulty of securing convictions in a case involving false but religiously motivated accusations.

It is encouraging that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has declared its intention to file an appeal against the acquittals by the anti-terrorism court, but the retraction of statements by witnesses to Mashal’s murder will likely pose challenges.

KP police and prosecution were surely aware that pressure would be brought to bear on witnesses to deny statements implicating the murderers and others involved in the lynching.

Fear for personal safety and the security of family members of witnesses would have been an unfortunate reality for the witnesses in the highly charged trial. The KP government should have taken steps to protect key witnesses and encourage full and accurate testimonies.

If in a case that sparked national outrage and scrutiny, the police and prosecution were unable to secure convictions of all the accused, what hope is there for cases that do not attract such intense media coverage and national interest?

Shocking though not surprising has been the response of some religious parties to the ATC verdict. The acquitted individuals have been greeted as heroes and hailed for their role in the murder of a man against whom accusations of blasphemy are demonstrably false.

With a general election on the horizon, all political parties are likely to try and gin up support among their respective bases.

But it is depressing that parties such as the Jamaat and JUI-F would take the violent death of an innocent young man and insist that it is those who had a part to play in his murder who have been wronged.

The state should consider instituting a scholarship or naming a centre of education after Mashal Khan.


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