- Court sentences one accused to death on two counts, multiple terms of life imprisonment to five persons, and 4-year jail to 25 others while acquitting 26 others for want of sufficient evidence
- Mashal’s parents protest acquittal of 26 accused, call verdict ‘incomplete justice’
- KP govt announces to challenge acquittal of remaining accused in high court
PESHAWAR: An anti-terrorism court convicted 31 out of 57 suspects in the Mashal Khan lynching case on Wednesday; however, the parents of the brutally murdered student protested the acquittal of the other 26 suspects, saying the verdict had delivered “incomplete justice”.
Questioning the acquittal of 26 out of 61 accused in the case, the parents of the slain student said the verdict was beyond their comprehension as all these people were absolved despite the availability of strong video evidence.
In April last year, Mashal Khan, 23, a student at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University was lynched by a mob, allegedly comprising his fellow students riled up by allegations of blasphemy against the young man. The event had shaken the nation, with a large number of people coming out on roads against the grisly murder, and a video footage of the incident making rounds on mainstream and social media.
VERDICT—26 ACQUITTED, 31 PENALISED:
The ATC in Haripur jail handed one death sentences on two counts to one suspect, convicted five to multiple terms of life imprisonment, four years each in jail to 25 others, while acquitting 26 suspects because of insufficient evidence.
All sentences were concurrent, which meant that the longest sentence will be the maximum time period of imprisonment.
Reading out the verdict against each of the 57 accused presented before the court, ATC Judge Fazal Khan Subhan said that relief under Section 382(B) would be extended to the convicts, which means the length of the imprisonment sentences shall be treated as having been served for the period for which the accused have already been in custody.
Prime accused Imran Ali was sentenced on two counts to death by hanging. He was handed a death sentence under Section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), and another death sentence along with a Rs100, 000 fine under Section 7(1)(a) of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Separately, he was awarded five years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 15 AA-KPK, along with a fine of Rs50, 000. Imran had confessed his crime before the court as well as to prosecution during the investigation.
Those who were awarded 25 years’ imprisonment in jail were Bilal Bakhsh, Fazal Razaq, Mujeebullah, Ashfaq Khan and Mudassir Bashir.
At least 25 convicts were each given two concurrent sentences; three years in jail under Sections 297 read with Sections 148 and 149 of the PPC along with a Rs50,000 fine; and one year in jail under Section 11-WW ATA along with a fine of Rs50,000. In case of non-payment of fine under any of the sentences, six months will be added to the sentence.
Acquitting 26 other suspects, the court’s verdict stated: “Those acquitted did not play a role in the lynching of the Mardan university student. No concrete evidence is brought on record against them and at the same time they were not found to have played any overt act in the lynching of Mashal Khan. Though identified in the videos/PFSA report, they could only be seen standing in the mob or making videos, therefore, they are acquitted of all charges leveled against them and it is directed that they shall be released forthwith if not required in any other case.”
The ATC had earlier indicted all these arrested suspects after rejecting their bail applications.
It may be mentioned here trial of another prime accused arrested last month is still be conducted. He was arrested in Jan 2018, taking the tally to 58.
MASHAL’S PARENTS DISAPPOINTED BY VERDICT:
Mashal’s parents lamented that all their sacrifices have gone to waste as only transparent justice could have avenged and averted the killings in name of blasphemy.
Mashal’s mother said that the verdict has been “very discouraging” and that they would challenge it in the high court. “We need full justice,” said Mashal Khan’s mother while talking to media.
Iqbal Khan told BBC Urdu from Birmingham that he did not feel justice had been delivered [in the case], as the anti-terrorism court acquitted 26 suspects despite video evidence against them.
“Despite all the difficulties in keeping the case against the mob—that killed Mashal—alive, I did not cave in and sustained the quest for justice, but this verdict has axed all my hopes of a progressive society that would prevent such heinous crimes as Mashal’s murder in future,” Iqbal Khan lamented.
Iqbal went on to say that such verdict not only propagates despair in the society, in fact, letting these culprits get scot-free also questions the writ of the state which was quashed when the mob lynched Mashal.
He also pointed out KP government for his double standards, saying they now want to go to the court if they had set things straight in the start of the case, these [acquitted 26 in the case] men could not be let off easy.
The verdict couldn’t soothe the wounds of the broken mother as well. “I am not satisfied with the judgement. All the arrested men were involved in the murder. They all arrived to kill my Mashal and after the killing, they congratulated each other in the video clips,” Mashal’s mother despaired.
“How [can] court released (some) killers who broke my son’s head, hands, shoulders on camera?” she grieved.
Speaking to media-persons right after the verdict, Mashal Khan’s brother Aimal Khan said that all the accused deserved punishment as they were part of the mob that had killed his brother.
Aimal, while speaking to the media outside the courtroom as the verdict was being read out, said that he hoped that no one ever has to go through the ordeal his family suffered.
“My only appeal to the KP police is to arrest the rest of the suspects and bring them to justice as well,” he said.
Being sceptic about the verdict from the outset, he said that family will consult lawyers on the nature of the verdict.
He also espoused that promise made by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan in which he had pledged to rename the Swabi university after Mashal Khan.
“I appeal to Imran Khan to keep the promise he made when he visited our house for condolence after the murder of Mashal Khan,” he said. “Mashal was not an ordinary person, he was a visionary. This is the least they [the government] can do to honour him.”
However, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak claimed no such promise had been made. He said that the government could not interfere in the university’s matters since the institute’s board decides such matters.
Aimal said the family had not received any threats as the verdict was announced. He expressed satisfaction with security arrangements made for the family.
Extra security arrangements were made due to the sensitivity of the case, with roads leading to jail closed off. The jail administration has also banned the entry of visitors, and provided security to Mashal’s family at their residence in Swabi.
The parents of the arrested suspects had also staged a protest outside the court after being prohibited from entering the courtroom.
KP GOVT NOT TO GIVE UP:
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced to challenge the acquittal of 26 accused in the case. “The provincial government will go into an appeal against all those who have been acquitted,” said Shaoukat Yousafzai, an advisor to Chief Minister Pervez Khattak.
PTI SAYS FAMILY SATISFIED WITH VERDICT:
Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, whose party rules the province, sent party leader Faisal Javed to visit Mashal’s family on his behalf. Javed said that he had been tasked to hear any concerns that Mashal’s family might have regarding the ATC judgement.
He claimed the family said they were satisfied with the verdict and the performance of KP police, clearly contradicting the statements given by all the members of the family.
Their acquittal has been questioned by the parents of Mashal Khan and civil society of the country; the KP government also decided to the challenge the decision.
A Twitter user shared a statement of one of the acquitted suspect, quoting: “The accused said he kicked Mashal on the back while he was still alive… as he was the enemy of Prophet Mohammad.” The user questioned how could the court such a person who had claimed to be a part of the assault.
Court acquitted Hazrat Bilal in #MashalKhan case, but I have his confession to the police saying “he kicked Mashal on his back while “he was alive” because he was an enemy of the Prophet… what’s going on? pic.twitter.com/kqjubUoZRD
— Secunder Kermani (@SecKermani) February 7, 2018
Mashal was lynched by his university fellows and staffers on baseless allegations of blasphemy. Following the murder of Mashal and subsequent protests, the case was taken to the court in Mardan and a joint subsequent investigation team (JIT) was formed to probe the case.
In its report, the JIT had 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.
The Peshawar High Court had transferred the case from Mardan to ATC Abbottabad, which heard the case in the Haripur jail, on a request of Mashal’s father, who sought the move fearing his “influential adversaries”.
Of the total 61 suspected of involvement in the lynching ─ the majority of them were students and university employees and a tehsil councillor belonging to the PTI ─ charged in the first information report, 57 had been arrested within a few days of the incident, while one was arrested last month, who has still to be tried.