The Peshawar High Court's (PHC) Abbottabad circuit bench on Tuesday suspended the three-year jail terms handed to 25 people in the Mashal Khan lynching case during a hearing on appeals against the Feb 7 Anti Terrorism Court verdict in the case and ordered their release till the appeals are heard.
Mashal Khan, 23, a student of Mass Communications at Mardan's Abdul Wali Khan University, was beaten and shot to death by an angry mob on April 13, 2017 after he was falsely accused of blasphemy.
The lynching took place within the premises of the university and was caught on video, which later circulated widely on social media.
The horrific incident had shocked the nation and sparked a debate over the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
On Feb 7, a Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) had handed the shooter, Imran Ali, two death sentences, five persons multiple terms of life imprisonment, and 25 others jail sentences, but acquitted 26 others for want of sufficient evidence.
The 25 people were each given two concurrent sentences; three years in jail under Section 297 read with Sections 148 and 149 of the PPC along with a Rs50,000 fine; and one year in jail under Section 11-WW ATA along with a fine of Rs50,000.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and Mashal's family had previously petitioned the PHC against the verdict, calling for the conviction of those acquitted and stricter jail terms for those convicted in the case.
The convicts had, however, challenged their convictions in the PHC. At least 13 appeals were registered against the ATC's verdict by all three parties ─ the KP government, the victim's family, and those convicted.
The two-member circuit bench comprising Justice Lal Jan and Justice Atiq Shah while hearing appeals against the verdict filed by those convicted, today suspended the punishments handed to the 25 and ordered their release from jail on bail.
Syed Akhtar, the lawyer representing the convicted men, in today's hearing argued that there is a provision in the law under which those sentenced to less than five years in prison can be released on bail, according to DawnNewsTV.
After the hearing, Akhtar told reporters that the bench had accepted the argument and issued a short order for the release of the men.
He said he was waiting for a detailed order after which the men will be released from Haripur jail, where they were imprisoned after the Feb 7 verdict. He added that they had already moved bail applications along with appeals against the ATC verdict.