News Analysis |
The Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) Abbottabad bench has suspended the sentences of 25 convicts in Mashal Khan’s lynching case on Tuesday while hearing appeals of the convicts against the 7th February Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) verdict in the case and ordered their release on bail till the hearing is concluded. The convicts had been awarded 4 years in prison with a 100,000 rupees fine.
Mashal Khan was a 23 year old Mass Communications student in Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) Mardan. He was lynched by an angry mob over blasphemy allegations on 13th April 2017. Videos of his lynching were released on social media and it created a huge outrage in the country. The lynching took place under the premises of the university and hundreds of students were present during the tragic incident.
It might create a situation similar to the one in the center and Punjab where the PML-N is confronting the SC’s decisions. PTI has very few choices but to accept the PHC’s decision and place the names of the culprits on the ECL.
57 out of the 61 suspects were arrested in the Mashal Khan murder case. The ATC judge Fazal Khan Subhan had announced the verdict against each of the 57 arrested at the Haripur Central Jail. The prime accused Imran Ali, who had confessed to shooting Mashal, had been awarded the death sentence and fined for 150,000 rupees, five were awarded 25 years in prison, 25 will be jailed for four years and 26 suspects were acquitted without punishment for lack of evidence.
A total of 13 appeals were filed in the PHC against the ATC verdict by the KP government, Mashal’s family and the convicted. Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan had appealed to the PHC on Saturday that those convicts who have been awarded life imprisonment should have been awarded the death sentence and more severe punishments for those who had been awarded 4 years in prison. The brother of Mashal Khan had earlier filed an appeal against the 26 acquitted. The Peshawar government had also appealed against the acquittal of the 26 suspects.
On June 2017, a thirteen member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed to probe into Mashal Khan’s case. They found that the allegations of blasphemy against Mashal were unfounded and he was declared innocent by the JIT. The report made by the JIT declared that the murder was premeditated and politically motivated. It also revealed corrupt and illegal activities that persisted inside the campus and the exploitation of female students inside the university.
The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed Mashal Khan’s murder case on the same day, stating that the trial had already been conducted in the ATC and the accused were awarded punishments so there was no need of any further debate on it. The timing of the dismissal of sentences by the PHC and SC’s dismissal of the case appear to be very odd as the SC’s decision was based on the fact that the case was concluded but the PHC has reopened the case.
The Mashal Khan case is a challenge for the government agencies, since the KP government had challenged the acquittal of 26 suspects in the PHC, will they challenge the PHC’s dismissal in the SC or raise their voice against the decision?
Media circles are speculating that there might be some link between PHC and SC’s decision. It might be a coincidence but it is suspected that the timings were carefully planned. The rationale behind PHC’s decision is unclear since video and pictorial evidence was presented to the ATC and the involvement of the culprits in Mashal’s lynching was proved beyond a doubt. Since the name of the released convicts is not in the Exit Control List (ECL), they could flee from the country.
The SC might have to take another suo motu notice against the released culprits as they might use public agitation to influence the decision of the court. The ATC’s verdict created a huge uproar in some parts of KP with people protesting against the convictions and celebrating the acquittals. It is expected that the newly released 25 culprits will also receive a warm welcome on arrival in their hometowns.
Civil society activists are closely following the Mashal Khan lynching case as it has become a symbol for all the innocents persecuted and attacked under allegations of blasphemy. The nature of the case is very sensitive as the growing intolerance in the society makes people reluctant to even advocate for those accused of blasphemy. Under such a hostile environment, the civil society activists have demanded the government to work on changing the public narrative.
Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan had appealed to the PHC on Saturday that those convicts who have been awarded life imprisonment should have been awarded the death sentence and more severe punishments for those who had been awarded 4 years in prison.
Abhorrence for extra-judicial killing and faith in the law needs to be restored. It can be done via a mass education campaign to raise the awareness level of people. The Mashal Khan case is a challenge for the government agencies, since the KP government had challenged the acquittal of 26 suspects in the PHC, will they challenge the PHC’s dismissal in the SC or raise their voice against the decision?
It might create a situation similar to the one in the center and Punjab where the PML-N is confronting the SC’s decisions. PTI has very few choices but to accept the PHC’s decision and place the names of the culprits on the ECL. Their recent alliance with JUI-S might also make them reluctant to move against the culprits in the Mashal Khan case as they want to gain the favor of the pro-religious parties in the 2018 general elections.