LAHORE: Mashal Khan had died long before his lifeless body was beaten with wooden planks and thrown from the second floor of the place he had called his Alma Mater. Before that he was stripped naked, severely beaten and then shot— it was later discovered that they wanted to burn his body too.
The hearing of the case was completed last week, after almost 10 months since the horrible event. The verdict will be announced on February 7.
On April 13, 2017, Mashal Khan, 23, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was lynched by a mob, allegedly comprising of his fellow students riled up by allegations of blasphemy against the young man. As details of this bone-chilling event, including a video recording of the event, were reported, a different picture started to emerge— one that had nothing to do with blasphemy.
A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report later revealed that it was a well-planned attack by the Pakhtun Students Federation (PSF) and that there was no evidence of blasphemy involved. According to the report, Mashal was getting vocal about student rights and the increasing irregularities in the institution and was becoming an apparent threat to the PSF.
An anti-terrorism court (ATC) indicted the 57 arrested suspects in the case after rejecting their bail application. It started hearing the case in September, during the course of which, nearly 50 witnesses were presented before the court and had their statements recorded.
This was not the first time that Pakistan saw mob “justice” being meted out for alleged blasphemy, to unfairly target religious minorities or settle personal scores. However, this event was specifically horrifying as it involved students, in an educational institution, lynching a fellow student to death.
Due to the excessive details that were available, this no longer was a distant event in some remote corner of the country. The facts, details, the gruesomeness was undeniable.
“They should all be given a capital punishment,” Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook said while talking to Pakistan Today.
He added that the culprits should not only be convicted under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code but also under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. “Section 302 has the option of case settlement between the two sides outside the court. If that happens then this potential opportunity for a watershed moment would be lost.”
He further stated said Section 149 of the PPC applies in this case which states that when a criminal act is done by several persons, (assembly of more than five under Section 34) in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such person is liable for that act in the same manner as if it was done by him alone.
“It is a very troubling situation,” said political analyst Brigadier (r) Samson Simon Sharaf.
“More so than ever, it is of utmost importance now that people who were in any way involved in this heinous murder are brought to justice,” he said while talking to Pakistan Today.
Former Human Right Commission Pakistan (HRCP) director Najam U Din said, “There are rumours of political patronage in this case— whoever was found guilty should be punished.”
In a video that surfaced after the lynching, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Councillor Arif Khan was seen warning a crowd to keep the name of the person who shot Mashal Khan secret.
“If this case isn’t brought to its logical conclusion it would give the impression that anyone can kill in this country on the basis of religion and get away with it,” Najam U Din added.
However, regardless of justice being done in both letter and spirit in this particular case, it does raise many other questions.
The ability of a mob to carry out a lynching unchecked in a publicly chartered place of education, regardless of the crime, is an alarming situation. Is there no oversight of these institutions? What can be done, if anything, to improve the deplorable situation?
“A few very important things should promptly be added to the co/extracurricular activities,” said Jawad Syed, Dean of the Suleman Dawood School of Business at LUMS. “The concept of pluralism that two or more principles or opinions can coexist should be introduced in classrooms.”
He said that a basic training of individuals is necessary for them to understand that resorting to violence under any circumstances is just not acceptable. “Significance of inter-faith conversations has never been greater than today.”
“Parents, teachers and caretakers must address the tell-tale signs of intolerance in children, right from the beginning,” he asserted.
“The government will have to be geared to solve this problem for good and the state should mainly focus on projecting the softer image of the country, which can only be done through the society, or the society will continue to radicalise,” said Brig (r) Samson.
He said that the closing down of madrassas (seminaries) is not the viable solution.
“Incidents like this depict that the society is now diseased,” Najam U Din opined. “The fact that a crime as heinous as this happened at an educational institution, where questioning is in fact encouraged, is a matter beyond deplorable.”
While talking about the probable solutions to this problem, he said, “Children, by the time they’re in grade four, know the difference between right and wrong. How much awareness is required to realise that killing of a person is illegal?”
He said that in order for people to know what really happened, details of this case and its verdict should be highlighted and put before the general public. “The government and the clerics should say it clearly that these people were misusing this law,” he said further.
“I have yet to see a single cleric condemn this act of violence openly. They need to be clear about this to avoid such acts in future,” Najam U Din stressed.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq was also approached for comments on the issue but he said that he was not aware of the details of the case. Mardan, where Mashal Khan was brutally lynched, is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), from where Sirajul Haq was elected as a senator in 2015.
The brutal manner in which Khan was killed caused outrage in Pakistan but could this case prove to be a turning point?
“There is a dire need in the masses to be aware of the fact that their opinion is not supreme and that there exists a diversity of opinion, which should be accepted and respected,” said Dr Jawad Syed.
He stated that in order to improve the deplorable situation, “it is imperative that the issue is addressed at the grass root level instead of just focusing on the symptoms, no matter how challenging the task might seem.”
“This has now turned into a monster that has seeped into every pore of the society,” said Prof Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad, one of the most prominent names in Pakistan’s Left movement.
He said that in order to propagate a multicultural society, a proactive movement will have to be started by the government. “In order to turn the image of the country around, and project a secular, democratic point of view with the help of the media, calculated steps will have to be taken.”
“The state, playing a proactive role, will have to begin a sustained multi-pronged movement, together with the clergy, media, and educational institutions; that is the only way to tackle this monstrosity,” Prof Aziz-ud-Din concluded.