Trial by combat | Pakistan Today

Trial by combat

There is no honour left in this tradition

The genesis of “Trial by Combat” (TBC) can be found in Germanic law (law of barbarians); it was mechanism for settling disputes based on bald accusations, either in the absence of witnesses or confessions. TBC allowed the parties to settle their differences through a single combat wherein the winner was declared to be right. TBC was introduced into the common law of the England after the Norman conquest of 1066 AD and remained in use till the late middle ages throughout Europe. The earliest known case in this regard is Wulfstan v. Walter 1077 AD dealing with a dispute between a Saxon and a Norman.

After, reformation and advent of human right movements, the world shunned the TBC method for settling disputes by labelling it as inhumane, sadistic and unjust. However, many in Pakistan (also in India) still consider it as an effective tool for meeting the ends of justice. Our version of TBC is a little different, wherein accusation is deemed as strong evidence, hearsay evidence is admissible, the accused is forced to remain unarmed and has to face a fully armed and emotionally charged mob, the only available sentence is death by severe beating besides mutilation of body.

The whole world saw manifestation of our version of TBC on 13 April, 2016 when Mashall Khan (a 23 year old bright student of Journalism at the Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) Mardan) was mercilessly thrown into a TBC over bogus allegations of blasphemy, a fully armed mob was on one side and Mashall was on the other side. The boy was shot in the head and then publicly lynched, his dead body was defiled and violated by the fuming mob in every possible way to satisfy its sadism and to book its ticket to heaven. The tormenting video of this nauseating violence shared on the social media showed Mashall’s unclothed body being kicked and dragged like a football on hallways of the AWKU.

Mashall was killed at a place where he went to fulfil his dreams; those who he thought would become his lifetime friends sentenced him to death. The Mullah of his hometown added salt to the wounds of his family, when he shamelessly roared through loud speaker, “Whoever attends Mashal’s funeral has to renew their marriage”.

Fourteen centuries ago when vengeance was a norm, the Prophet (PBUH) amidst the shouts of the glory of Allah forgave even the most lethal of his enemies at the time of Conquest of Mecca. However, the self proclaimed followers of Prophet (PBUH) on April 13, 2016 amidst the shouts of the glory of the Allah brutally killed an innocent boy who had literally done nothing.

According to the Chief Minister and Inspector General Police KPK, not a single piece of evidence was found to imply that Mashall had committed blasphemy. Abdullah (the student who was also injured by the mob on accusations of blasphemy) while recording his statement under Section 164 CrPC averred that neither he nor Mashal had committed blasphemy. He further said “On April 13, i received a phone call from a friend, Muhammad Abbas asking me to come to the journalism department of AWKU. When i reached, Mudassir Bashir (class representative) and other students blamed me, Mashal and Zubair of committing blasphemy to which i bluntly refused and recited the Kalma. After hearing the Kalma, they forced me to give a concocted deposition that Mashal Khan had committed blasphemy but I refused”.

Wajahat’s (prime suspect) in his confessional statement avowed that on April 13 he was directed by the AWKU administration to, give a fake speech and level blasphemy allegations against Mashal Khan, in the university premises, which he did. Thereafter, on instructions of AWKU administration Wajahat lied in front of the students that he himself had heard Mashal committing blasphemy. The security in charge, Bilal Baksh, said that he will kill Mashal and anyone taking side of Mashal would be dealt with iron hands. Subsequently, the students turned into a violent and avenging mob and as result Mashall was murdered.

If Mashall didn’t commit blasphemy, then why was he killed? The answer to this query is very simple i.e. Mashall had given an interview to AVT Khyber wherein he condemned the AWKU administration for misusing authority and not providing the quality services to students and particularly to those from under-privileged stratum of the society. He once also boycotted exams when poor students were stopped by AWKU administration from taking exams over non-payment of dues.

Foregoing discussion makes it crystal clear that Mashal Khan was not killed due to blasphemy rather it was his attitude against despotic and elitist tendencies of the AWKU administration that provoked the evil movement against him. He was punished for challenging the status quo, for being an idealist and keeping a free and progressive mind. AWKU administration simply used blasphemy as an excuse to stigmatise and get him killed.

There is no cavil with the proposition that commission of blasphemy is abhorrent and immoral act. Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) defines offence of blasphemy and prescribes its sentence; the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides complete guidelines for trial of an offence. If someone commits blasphemy, the law of the land mandates a proper trial of blasphemy with all the safeguards against its misuse for instance, registration of FIR under 295-C PPC, presentation of Challan under section 173 CRPC, Examination in Chief and Cross Examination of witnesses etc. After completion of the trial, then it is determined whether the accused had committed blasphemy or not. Perusal of the records reflects that neither had a case been filed against Mashall prior to the incident nor had the police been investigating him on blasphemy charges.

Brutal murder of Mashall is cruelty and madness of the most grievous kind. We are not governed by law of barbarians, where accused is forced to face a Trial by Combat and fight unarmed against an enemy for his survival. Mob or vigilante justice is manifestation of insanity, vengeance and ignorance as mob primarily acts on the basis of hearsay without getting the information ascertained, verified or investigated. No one shall be allowed to kill another person on his own, on the basis of unconfirmed intuition or perception that such other person had committed blasphemy. In the Holy Quran, Allah has time and again warned us against those who start to believe in hearsay without first getting verified. Phony allegation regarding commission of blasphemy is a despicable act, there is a dire need to introduce a new provision in PPC whereby false allegation of blasphemy shall also be declared as blasphemy and the punishment for committing such an offence shall be the same as that in case of blasphemy.