An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death and 30 others to prison terms ranging from four to 25 years for their role in the campus lynching of a university student who was falsely accused of blasphemy. Twenty-six other people were acquitted.
In April 2017, the mob comprising mostly students beat and shot to death 23-year-old Mashal Khan, who was a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University. The fatal attack followed allegations he had shared blasphemous content on social media.
A police investigation later established that the accusations were leveled at Khan after he criticized rising school fees and what he alleged was nepotism in teacher appointments.
A mobile phone video of the lynching attack, which was posted on social media, sparked an outcry in and outside of Pakistan, drawing widespread condemnation and refueling concerns over persistent misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Students, teachers and employees were among the 57 people rounded up with the help of the online video and CCTV footage from the university. Late last year, a court indicted the detainees, although they all pleaded not guilty. Four others remain at large.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where insulting Islam or its Prophet Muhammad can carry the death penalty. No one has ever been executed under blasphemy laws in Pakistan, but mere allegations have provoked dozens of mob lynchings.
Salman Taseer, the governor of the most populous province of Punjab, was assassinated in 2011 by his official bodyguard after calling for the laws to be reformed. Taseer's assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was later tried and executed by hanging. Qadri has been hailed as a martyr by religious fundamentalists in Pakistan.
The federal law minister, Zahid Hamid, resigned late last year under pressure from a religiously-motivated rally over allegations he committed blasphemy by trying to alter the electoral oath declaring the Prophet Muhammad as God’s final prophet.