We, like most of the country, have our fingers firmly crossed that Mashal Khan will at last be delivered justice; albeit posthumously. The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) is due to issue its verdict today in a case that shook the nation to its core.
We cannot envisage any outcome other than murder charges for all those who actively beat the university student to death. Especially given that this unspeakable brutality was filmed and shared for all to see. This ought to be an open and shut case. And yes, we say this, despite our calls elsewhere for every pillar of the state to do its utmost not to jeopardise due process. That being said, we cannot support the Supreme Court advocate who, in an admittedly heartfelt comment, argued that they should all be awarded the death penalty. For we firmly believe in the old adage about how an eye for an eye turns the whole world blind. Yet where we do agree with him is when he recommends that the culprits should not only be convicted under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) judge but also under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act; to safeguard against invoking the PPC clause that allows for settlement between the two parties. This is also something that Mashal’s father has ruled out.
Nevertheless, such prescriptions overlook the complicity of the state itself. Meaning that under Chaudhry Nisar, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) initiated the extremely dangerous practice of calling on the citizenry to snoop on report each other for blasphemy; when we all know that just like beauty, the latter largely remains in the eye of the beholder. And then there is the matter of the government rushing through the deeply flawed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 contrary to the recommendations by various digital rights groups. So, let us be clear: those 57 suspects didn’t act alone. The Pakistani state created the environment that paved the way for the murder of Mashal Khan.
Similarly, we have our fingers equally crossed that the question of his not actually having committed blasphemy isn’t given undue attention. For it matters not whether or not he was guilty in this regard or not — except in terms of proving pre-meditation — for nothing justifies what was done to him. The same goes for his official Muslim status. For then the fear is that this will somehow send out the subliminal message that it was perfectly condonable to burn to death, for example, a Christian couple and unborn baby on the grounds of rumoured blasphemy.
So, while we are hopeful that justice will be delivered today — we won’t be rejoicing. For whatever the outcome, it remains an indelible black spot on Pakistan’s hard face. *
Published in Daily Times, February 7th 2018.