Pakistan court issues death sentence, prison terms for ‘blasphemy’ lynching

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Pakistani relatives of suspects accused in a blasphemy lynching case speak outside the central jail after an anti-terrorist court’s verdict in Haripur district on Wednesday. — AFP

HARIPUR, Pakistan — A Pakistani court sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment on Wednesday for lynching a student accused of blasphemy in a highly-charged case that sent shock waves through the country.

Last April, Mashal Khan, 23, was stripped, beaten and shot by a gang of mostly students before being thrown from the second floor of his dorm at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan.

“One of the accused has been awarded a death sentence, (five) were given life imprisonment while 26 have been acquitted,” Saad Abbasi, a defense lawyer representing the accused, said at the prison where the verdict was announced.

An additional 25 were given three-year sentences, he added.

Ahead of the verdict announcement, heavy security was deployed at the jail in the city of Haripur where the accused were detained, with the area cordoned off by around 300 regular police and elite commandos.

The brutality of the attack, which was recorded on mobile phone cameras and posted online, stunned the public and led to widespread condemnation —including from prominent Islamic scholars — with protests erupting in several cities.

Students who participated in the lynching were later rounded up after being identified using CCTV footage from the university and video clips.

An official report released months later concluded Khan was falsely accused, saying the murder was instigated by members of a secular student group who felt threatened by Khan’s growing prominence as a critic of rising fees and alleged corruption at the university.

Blasphemy is an enormously sensitive charge in Pakistan, and a criminal offense that can carry the death penalty.

While the state has never executed anyone under blasphemy laws, mere allegations have prompted mob lynchings and lesser violence.

Meanwhile in another high-profile case, police in Pakistan say they have arrested two teenagers suspected in the murder of a four-year-old girl last month, which set off protests across the country.

Silahuddin Mehsud, police chief in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said on Wednesday the suspects confessed to trying to sexually assault the girl in a sugarcane field and then strangling her to death when she cried out. He said one of the suspects was a relative of the victim.

Pakistan has seen a wave of protests in recent weeks over alleged police negligence. The demonstrations were ignited by the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in the city of Kasur, whose body was found on a trash heap. Police have arrested an alleged serial killer believed to have killed her and seven other children. — Agencies


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