LAHORE: Soon after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Haripur handed out death sentence to one suspect, convicted five to life imprisonment, awarded four years in jail to 25 others and acquitted 26 suspects in the Mashal Khan murder case, workers from different religious party gathered at the Mardan Motorway Interchange to welcome home the acquitted individuals.
Workers from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) gathered at the Mardan Motorway Interchange and protested against the verdict, chanting slogans against the slain Mashal Khan and vowing to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.
Social media posts declaring the same also started making rounds online, in which the acquitted individuals were likened to “Ashiqaan-e-Rasool”. One such post was circulated under the banner of Jamaat-e-Islami which urged the party members to welcome the acquitted “Ghazis”.
The protest against the court decision and the general sentiment shown by the religious parties in glorifying the acquittal of the suspects was criticised by the parents of the slain student as well as civil society activists.
Speaking to media, the parents of the brutally murdered student protested the acquittal of 26 suspects, saying the verdict had delivered “incomplete justice”.
Rights activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir also deemed the court’s verdict as a “discouraging sentence” and criticised the welcome celebrations of those acquitted.
“These celebrations resulted in the glorification and encouragement of violence,” he said.
Speaking to Pakistan Today, Jibran Nasir claimed,” The 26 acquitted are not innocent. They shamelessly lied to the court about their involvement in the case and pleaded not-guilty to the charges of Mashal’s murder, however, at the “welcome rally” in Mardan they not only admitted to their crime but vowed to act in a similar way in the future as well”.
“The 26 suspects were acquitted not because they were innocent but because the prosecution was weak. At Mardan’s rally the same 26, as well as the religious parties, glorified the brutal killing and even incited more violence on the same pattern,” he added.
On the other hand, speaking to Pakistan Today, JI Deputy General Secretary Mardan Imad Akbar stated that the welcome ceremony was to celebrate the release of individuals who have been caught up in the case and that the sentiment of the entire Mardan city regarding the unfairness of the decision could be seen in the welcome procession.
He further added that in view of JI, the court’s decision to punish Mashal’s killers was unacceptable as Mashal was a “proven blasphemer who had committed sacrilege not just online but also in front of those who later got riled up and killed him”.
“The main accused Imran Ali himself heard Mashal Khan spewing hatred against Islam and Holy Prophet (PBUH) therefore to claim that he did not commit any blasphemy is incorrect”, Imad Akbar further claimed.
On being pointed out by this scribe that no evidence of blasphemy was ascertained by the court during the hearing and the law enforcement agencies during the investigation, Imad Akbar stated that the online content which Mashal Khan posted and which was averse to the sensitivities of Islam was available for all to see.
“I myself have 58 screenshots of the blasphemous content that Mashal uploaded,” he claimed and went on to question: “how can anyone say he was innocent?”
Imad Akbar, as a further alleged proof of Mashal Khan’s blasphemous nature, pointed to the recent visit of his father, Iqbal Khan to the United Kingdom (UK) where he met Malala Yousafzai and delivered a talk in Oxford University.
“Why do you think Mashal’s father was given the visa to visit UK? It is because Mashal had been serving the western interests, they would never grant me a visa if I wish to travel [in UK] but they granted one to Iqbal Khan because his son committed blasphemy and that is what makes these western powers happy,” he stated.
He further went on to state that because JI deemed the decision in the case unfair they would appeal against them in the higher court and would push to get all the suspects released as the punishment of blasphemy was death and those who had killed Mashal had done nothing wrong.
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.
Even though JI’s Ameer in Mardan Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman while speaking to Pakistan Today, matched the sentiments expressed by Imad Akbar, he took a more cautious approach to the issue of the welcome celebrations in the honour of those released.
“The welcome party was not to celebrate the “Ghazis” or the “Ashiqaan-e-Rasool” as some media outlets have reported, JI was there with the parents of the former suspects, to welcome those who had been honourably released by the country’s judicial system and as a political party we have all the right to do that”, Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman stated.
On being questioned regarding Imad Akbar’s statement that as a party policy JI was against the verdict in the case and those who had killed Mashal had done nothing wrong, Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman stated that JI’s policy on this issue was the same when it first came to light; that no individual had the right to take the law into his own hand even if it was a blasphemy case.
“JI strictly condemns the mob mentality which killed Mashal Khan as we believe in the judicial system of the country and that Mashal should have been tried in a court for his crime of committing blasphemy”, he stated, “However, when we see that the cases of blasphemers in this country, like Asia Masih in Punjab, are quietly pushed back and no punishment is handed out, the masses often resort to vigilante justice,” Ata-ur-Rehman added.
He further stated that the decision of JI to appeal against the punishments handed out in the case was not because they were “unfair” but because of legal technicalities.
“Mashal Khan’s case was tried in the court as an ordinary case of murder and did not keep in mind the allegations of blasphemy on the deceased. Blasphemy, in the Constitution of Pakistan, is punishable by death. We will appeal in the high court that the case should be seen in conjecture with the blasphemy accusations and the verdict handed out should reflect the same,” Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman stated.