ABBOTTABAD: The Abbottabad circuit bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) suspended on Tuesday the three-year jail terms handed down to 25 convicts in the Mashal Khan lynching case and ordered their release on bail.

In its short order, the two-member bench comprising Justice Lal Jan Khattak and Justice Attique Shah suspended the punishments handed down to the 25 convicts by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Feb 7.

Mashal Khan, a student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, was lynched by a mob of students, university staff and outsiders on April 13 last year after he was wrongly alleged to have committed blasphemy.

The bench seized with appeals against the ATC verdict, after hearing detailed arguments of the advocate general and retired Justice Fazal-e-Haq Abbasi, who appeared on behalf of the appellants, decided to set the 25 people free until a final decision on their appeals.

The convicts who filed the appeals were Wajid Malang, Zeeshan, Hanif, Nasrullah alias Nasir Afridi, Inam Ahmed son of Nasrullah, Khail Said, Hassan Akhtar, Anas son of Janis, Malik Touqeer, Aamir, Sodais, Hamza, Arif, Shahab Ali Shah, Ashraf Ali, Imran son of Hashim Ali, Waleed, Ali Khan, Shoaib, Nawab Ali, Syed Abbas, Sahib Zada Mohammad Sohaib, Farhan Laiq, Riaz Shangla and Wajahat Ullah.

The trial was conducted inside Haripur jail by the Abbottabad ATC, where the man who shot Mashal, Imran Ali, was awarded death sentence on two counts, five other accused were given multiple terms of life imprisonment, and the 25 handed down jail sentences.

However, 26 other accused persons were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

During arguments the counsel for the 25 appellants pleaded that there was a provision in the law under which those sentenced to less than five years in prison could be released on bail during pendency of appeal.

The family members of Mashal Khan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government have already moved the PHC in Peshawar against the release of 26 persons set free by the ATC and also pleaded for stricter penalties against those convicted in the case.

The prosecution had nominated 61 accused in the first information report, of which 58 were arrested. A total of 31 persons were convicted in the case and 26 were acquitted when the prosecution failed to prove its case against them.

Muhammad Sadaqat contributed to the report from Haripur

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018