Shooter gets death; five jailed for life

* Of total 57 suspects, ATC sends 25 to prison for three years but acquits another 26 for want of 'sufficient' evidence * KP govt to challenge acquittals

ISLAMABAD: The trial in Mashal Khan lynching case concluded on Wednesday as the Anti-Terrorism Court in Haripur gave death sentence on multiple counts to one convict and life terms to five others. As many as 25 others convicted in the case were sentenced to four-year prison terms while 26 suspects were acquitted for insufficient evidence.

Abdul-Wali Khan University’s student Mashal Khan was lynched on campus by a mob in April last year. Mashal’s killing sparked an unprecedented wave of protest against abuse of blasphemy laws. Calls were made for the urgent need to reform the law to check against its abuse.

After holding 25 hearings from September 2017 till January 2018, the court had reserved its decision on January 27. As many as 61 people were nominated in Mashal Khan’s murder case. Of which 57 were arrested in the first phase, while one offender, Izhar Ullah was arrested in January this year.

On Wednesday, 57 held in the case were present before the court as the verdict was announced.

Death sentence was awarded to one Imran, who shot a bullet at Mashal; and life terms were announced for Fazl-e-Raziq, Mujeeb Ullah, Ishfaq Khan, Mudasir Bashir, and Bilal Bakish. Twenty five others were awarded four year prison terms.

26 students arrested in the case were acquitted by the Anti-Terrorism Court as no conclusive evidence were found in videos as well as in the investigation report. The judge held that they were apparently watching the scene standing by the side or recording videos of the gruesome event.

Khyber Pakhtun-Khwa government announced that it would file an appeal against the acquittal of the 26 men.

One of the public prosecutors in Haripur Jail told Daily Times that the decision to acquit the men was shocking because there was strong evidence against them.

Speaking to BBC after the decision, Mashal’s father Iqbal Lala said justice had not fully been served in the case. “The decision is not exemplary of the Anti-Terrorism Court. I will move an appeal against it in the High Court.” He said, “I am fighting the war against extremism for my country’s other Mashals. I will settle for nothing short of complete justice.”

Mashal’s mother, while talking to media in her native village, said that her family had not been served justice. “Those who broke the hands and fingers of my beloved son have been freed by the court.”

The convict sentenced to death, Imran Ali, was a student of journalism and mass communication. He was formerly associated with a banned militant outfit where he apparently received militancy training. Later, he joined the Islami Jammiat Talaba (IJT), students’ wing of Jammat-e-Islami Pakistan.

Bilal Bakhash, who was awarded life imprisonment, was employed at the campus but was an active member of Pushtoon Students Federation (PSF), student wing of the Awami National Party.

Several students of the university, speaking on conditions of anonymity, told the scribe that Bakhash had held a grudge against Mashal after the deceased announced in a gathering that ANP was a secular party. Bakhash allegedly got Mashal’s membership of the PSF cancelled following the incident. Another source in the university said that Bakhash was allegedly appointed during the ANP’s term in power. ANP sources, however, did not confirm these claim.

Meanwhile, dozens of activists of the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan gathered at Mardan interchange to welcome those acquitted by the court on Wednesday.

A local journalist said Jamaat Islami’s amir Atta-ur-Rehman and JUI-F leader Maulana Shujaul Mulk were leading the caravan. They are chanting the slogans of ‘Ghazian Zindabad’.

Published in Daily Times, February 8th 2018.