Mashal Khan case: Death sentence for Pakistan 'blasphemy' murder

Pakistani protesters with banners demanding justice for Mashal Khan Image copyright AFP
Image caption The murder had lead to an outpouring of solidarity and grief

A Pakistani court has sentenced one man to death and handed life terms to five others for murdering a student who was falsely accused of blasphemy.

Twenty-five others were convicted of lesser offences in the case and 26 people were acquitted.

Mashal Khan was dragged out of his university accommodation in north-west Pakistan in April 2017 by a crowd of hundreds of his fellow students.

He was badly beaten before being shot and his body mutilated.

The trial took place inside Haripur Central Jail for safety reasons. Security was tight for the verdict, with hundreds of police deployed and roads closed around the prison.

Image caption There is a high police presence around the jail in preparation for possible protests by hardliners

Blasphemy is an incendiary social and political issue in religiously conservative Pakistan.

In all 57 people were put on trial in connection with the murder, including fellow student Imran Ali, who knew the victim well and pleaded guilty to shooting him. He was the only person who received a death sentence.

A 58th man was arrested last month and is facing separate proceedings.

Mashal Khan's father, Iqbal Khan, said justice had not been done in the case.

"I don't understand how several people were acquitted despite very clear videos and other evidence," he told BBC Urdu.

Who was Mashal Khan?

The 25-year-old was studying mass communications at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He described himself as a humanist, and had plastered his room with posters of his political heroes - like Che Guevara and Karl Marx - and written slogans celebrating free speech on the walls.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mashal Khan's room at the university

Reports around the time of his death said he had often been accused of holding "anti-Islamic" views and that the day before he died, he had been engaged in a heated debate about religion.

He was also known for his criticism of the university's leadership.

What happened on the day of the murder?

On 13 April, 2017 rumours spread that Mr Khan had posted blasphemous material online, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan.

Hundreds of students and some university staff members marched through the campus searching for him.

They broke into his room and dragged him out. Widely circulated mobile phone footage showed him being beaten, stamped on and shot. The crowd continued to attack his body after his death.

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Media captionMashal Khan was killed by a mob of fellow students on campus

During their investigation, police determined there was no evidence Mr Khan had committed blasphemy. His killing was ruled to have been premeditated murder.

Some of the 50 people who gave testimonies to the court said he had angered the university administration by criticising their management in the weeks before his death.

What has been the reaction to the case in Pakistan?

There was a huge outpouring of solidarity and grief. Protests were held demanding justice for Mr Khan and there has been a debate about excessive use of blasphemy allegations to settle personal grievances.

However, such is the sensitivity of blasphemy that some politicians - including the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - held off commenting on the killing until Mr Khan's name had been cleared.

Image caption Mashal Khan's father said the government should act so a similar tragedy could not occur again

Many people in Mr Khan's home village stayed away from his funeral, fearing being attacked by hardliners.

Dozens of people accused of blasphemy have been murdered in recent years in Pakistan.

Among them was politician Salman Taseer, who was shot dead by his own bodyguard in 2011 for speaking out against misuse of the laws.

Mr Taseer's bodyguard, who was executed last year, is revered by many religious hardliners.

Although people have received the death penalty for blasphemy, the state has not yet executed anyone for the crime.

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