Multiple religious parties are set to protest on Friday against the conviction of 31 men found to have been involved in the brutal murder of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan student Mashal Khan, who was lynched in April 2017 after being falsely accused of blasphemy.
The protest will be held after Friday prayers at a mosque in Mardan, where different religious and political parties will converge under the 'Khatm-i-Nabuwwat Mardan' banner to protest the convictions.
The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Maulana Samiul Haq's Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam are among the parties whose workers are expected to attend the protest.
The JI also held a gathering in Mardan on Thursday to 'welcome' those acquitted by the ATC.
JI's Emir in Mardan, Dr Attaur Rehman, while speaking to DawnNews said the party is a constitutional and religious party which wants Shariah law imposed in Pakistan.
"The Haripur ATC honourably acquitted 26 individuals in the Mashal Khan case. This means they are innocent and we have gathered to give them an exemplary welcome," he had said.
JUI-F's Provincial General Secretary Shujaul Mulk, when asked about the reasons behind the Friday protest, told DawnNews that the 26 who were acquitted in the case by the Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court on Wednesday will address protesters at the gathering.
Mulk said that those let off were allegedly eyewitnesses to the lynching of Mashal Khan and continue to claim that he (Mashal) had committed blasphemy. He added that they had included this information in the statements recorded in court.
It is pertinent to note here that the joint investigation team (JIT) tasked by the court with probing the murder of Mashal Khan found the student had not committed blasphemy. The JIT in its report stated that a group in the university had incited a mob against the 23-year-old on pretext of blasphemy.
He also alleged that the men arrested for the murder of Mashal were beaten and forced confessions were extracted from them.
He said the men acquitted will tell attendees of the protest about how they were treated in custody.
"Despite all this, the government cleared Mashal," the JUI-F leader said. "We are not going to sit quietly, we will approach the Supreme Court and challenge the punishments handed to each of the convicts," he insisted.
He added that the religious parties workers will ask the government to avoid appealing against the acquittals in the Mashal Khan case "as it will hurt the sentiments of Muslims" and warned that the move "may spark protests across the country."
A formal decision in this regard will be made at the gathering on Friday, Mulk said.
On Wednesday night, a jubilant crowd of religious party workers had gathered at the Mardan Motorway Interchange to "welcome" the 26 "heroes" who had been acquitted by the court, and to protest the ATC's verdict against the 31 men convicted of Mashal's murder.
The charged crowd chanted slogans against the murdered student and vowed to "move the Supreme Court against the verdict".
At least six of the acquitted reached Mardan on Wednesday night. One of the acquitted, Aizaz, was welcomed and garlanded enthusiastically by the crowd.
Aizaz, who was showered with petals and carried on the shoulders of supporters, addressed the crowd in Pashto, vowing that anyone who committed blasphemy or spoke against Khatm-i-Nabuwwat would "meet the same end as Mashal".
Meanwhile, JUI-F's Mulk said that the court may have sentenced one "lover of the Prophet (Peace be upon him)" to death, "but that there are thousands more Imrans on the streets" ready to act.