HARIPUR: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) convicted 31 of the 57 accused in the Mashal Khan lynching case on Wednesday, awarding death sentence to the prime accused, life imprisonment to five other convicts and three-year jail terms to 25 others.
However, the court acquitted 26 other accused as the prosecution failed to prove charges against them. The court declared four absconding accused, including three prime suspects, as proclaimed offenders and issued perpetual arrest warrants against them.
Mashal Khan 23, a student of Mass Communication department at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, was lynched on April 13 last year by a mob of students after word spread that he had displayed blasphemous content online.
ATC hands down varying jail terms to 30 others; JUI-F, JI hail the 26 acquitted as ‘Ghazi’
The ATC judge Fazal-i-Subhan Khan, who conducted the trial in the camp court held in Central Jail Haripur, announced the verdict. A copy of the verdict was later displayed on a notice board placed about 2,000 metres from the jail’s building.
While the detailed judgement is spread over 93 pages, the court released a four-page short order detailing the sentences awarded to different convicts.
According to the order, the principal accused, Imran, who had opened fire on Mashal Khan, was awarded death sentence on two counts — under Section 302 (b) of the Pakistan Penal Code (intentional murder) and Section 7(1) (a) of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (when death is caused in an act of terrorism) — and fined Rs150,000. He was also sentenced to five-year imprisonment under Section 15 of the Arms Act. In case of failure to pay the fine, he will undergo one-year imprisonment.
Three of the convicts — Fazal-i-Razaq, Mujeeb Ullah and Asfhaq Khan — were awarded life imprisonment on two counts and fined Rs200,000 each.
Two other convicts — Mudassir Bashir, a student leader, and Bilal Bakish, a key punch operator at the university — were sentenced to life imprisonment on three counts, including murder, terrorism and hatching conspiracy. They were fined Rs200,000 each and sentenced to three-year imprisonment for lynching Mashal Khan.
According to the court order, 25 other accused were convicted of taking part in the lynching incident and each of them handed three-year rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs100,000.
The convicts are: Wajid Malang, Zeeshan, Hanif, Nasrullah alias Nasir Afridi, Imad Ahmed, Khial Said, Hasan Akhtar, Anas, Malik Tauqir, Aamir, Sodais, Hamza, Arif Londhkhor, Shahab Ali Shah, Ashraf Ali, Imran, Waleed, Ali Khan, Shoaib, Nawab Ali, Sayed Abbas, Sahibzada Muhammad Soaib, Farhan Laiq, Riaz Shangla and Wajahat Ullah. They were also convicted for desecrating the body of Mashal Khan and handed one-year jail term for this offence. However, they were acquitted of the charge of murder and terrorism.
The court acquitted 26 other accused in the case as the prosecution failed to prove that they had committed any act of violence or aggression or played any overt role in the lynching of Mashal Khan.
They were seen in the video clips produced as prosecution evidence standing around Mashal Khan and filming the body.
Those acquitted include Sani Ullah, Shehzad, Sajid Ali, Irfan Ullah, Anas, Shabir Ahmed, Sajid Katlang, Sohrab, Usman, Asif, Suleman, Jalal, Ajmal Mayar, Ali Hussain, Basharat, Ashfaq-ur-Rehman, Ghayoor Alam, Ehzaz, Abbas Sheno, Hamad, Syed Wajid Ali, Saeed Shankar, Afsar Khan, Hazrat Bilal, Muhammad Shafee and Shehzad.
The court declared four absconding accused -- Arif, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s tehsil councillor, Asad Khan, Sabir Mayar and Izhar Ullah alias Johny -- proclaimed offenders as, according to the verdict, the prosecution has proved the case against them.
Interestingly, Izhar Ullah, one of those declared offenders, was arrested by Mardan police last month.
The court has declared the sentences as concurrent, giving the convicts the benefit of Section 382 -B of the Code of Criminal Procedure under which their period of detention prior to conviction would be counted in the prison term.
The convicts were given the right to appeal against the conviction within 15 days under section 25 (3) of the ATA 1997. The trial
The trial lasted four months and 19 days after the case was transferred to the Abbottabad ATC from Mardan on Sept 19 last year.
During the trial, the ATC held a total of 34 hearings while the 35th was held for issuing the order on Wednesday.
Out of 80 prosecution witnesses, the prosecution preferred to bring only 51 in the dock for statements.
One of the witnesses, Siyab Muhammad, a student, had retracted his statement he had earlier recorded in the court of a judicial magistrate testifying that he was witness to the murder of Mashal Khan. During the statement before ATC, he accused the police of coercing him through torture to become a witness.
Another witness, Abdullah, also a student and said to be a friend of Mashal Khan -- who had been accused of being involved in spreading blasphemous content online and was rescued by police in injured condition -- had preferred not to name anyone for the murder.
In his statement recorded through video link from Saudi Arabia, he did not blame anyone for his injuries, saying that he was mistakenly beaten and when the mob attacked him, he recited Kalima to prove that he was a “true Muslim” and had nothing to do with blasphemy or Mashal Khan.
According to a 13-member joint investigation team, which carried out an investigation into the Mashal Khan lynching case, it was a premeditated murder. A group of employees and students of the university was threatened by Mashal Khan’s activities since he would speak out against irregularities at the university.
According to the JIT report, the president of the university employees association, Ajmal Mayar, revealed during the investigation that the Pakhtun Students Federation’s local leader Sabir Mayar and an employee of the varsity, Asad Khan Katlang, told him around one month before the incident that they wanted Mashal Khan to be “put out of the way” as he was a threat to “the interests of our group”.
Senior prosecutor Hameed Khan led the prosecution side while public prosecutors, Arif Bilal and Fazal Noorani, and advocates Sardar Abdul Rauf and Hafiz Kala Khan, were prominent among the prosecution team. A former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Fazal-i-Haq Abbasi, Masood Azhar, Javed Tanoli, Shakil Tanoli and Atif Jadoon represented the accused.
During the trial, Assistant Director (Prosecution) Zafar Iqbal had to quit the team reportedly following threats from the accused party.
On Wednesday, strict security measures were taken around the central jail and journalists and family members of the accused were kept about 2,000 metres away from the jail building.
Our correspondent from Mardan adds: Activists of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) and Jamaat-i-Islami accorded a warm welcome to the accused acquitted in the case on their arrival in Mardan.
JUI-F provincial general secretary Maulana Shuja-ul-Mulk and JI district Ameer Dr Attaur Rehman led a procession to greet the 26 acquitted persons.
Activists of the two religious parties carried flags of their parties and shouted anti-American slogans. They called the acquitted persons “Ghazi” and hoped that the other accused, who had been sentenced to death, life-imprisonment and jail sentences, would also be acquitted by higher courts.
Earlier on Tuesday Dr. Attaur Rehman had, through a post on social media and banners in Mardan district, had invited JI workers to a rally to welcome the acquitted persons.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2018