PESHAWAR: Acting Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court Waqar Ahmad Seth on Monday ordered the clubbing of all appeals against an anti-terrorism court’s judgment in the Mashal Khan lynching case, and holding of its hearing at the principal seat of the court in Peshawar.

The schedule for hearing will be announced later.

Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth accepted a petition of the provincial government through the advocate general seeking the transfer of the appeals filed by convicts in the case from the PHC’s Abbottabad Circuit Bench to the principal seat in Peshawar. Additional advocate general Waqar Ahmad Khan said currently, several appeals had been filed against the verdict by the provincial government, Mashal’s family members, including his father Iqbal Khan and brother Aimal Iqbal Khan, and convicts in the case.

He said while the KP government and Mashal’s family had filed appeals in the court’s principal seat, the convicts had challenged their sentence in the PHC’s Abbottabad Circuit Bench.

Govt had sought transfer of pleas from court’s Abbottabad bench

Mr Waqar said in Feb, the Abbottabad bench had suspended the sentences of three years imprisonment awarded to 25 of the convicts by the trial court and had ordered their release on bail.

He said it would be in the interest of justice to club all those appeals and should be heard by the same bench in Peshawar otherwise there was possibility that different benches would pronounce different verdicts on appeals.

Barrister Amirullah Khan Chamkani, lawyer for Mashal’s family, also supported the government’s plea.

Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student of the Mass Communication Department at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, was lynched by a mob on Apr 13, 2017, over the blasphemy allegations.

On Feb 7, an anti-terrorism court had convicted 31 of the 57 accused in the case awarding death sentence to the prime accused, life imprisonment to five and three-year imprisonment to 25 others.

The ATC, which had conducted trial inside Haripur Central prison, had however acquitted 26 of the accused persons observing that the prosecution failed to prove the charges against them. The trial court had ruled that charges of blasphemy against Mashal Khan were unfounded.

Initially, Mashal’s brother, Aimal Iqbal Khan, had filed an appeal against acquittal of the 26 accused persons by the trial court.

Later on, the KP government filed three appeals against the acquittal of the 26 accused persons and for increase in the sentences of the 31 convicts.

In the appeal against the acquittal of 26 accused, the provincial government has prayed that the high court set aside the judgment of the ATC to the extent of their acquittal and that the accused be convicted and punished under different provisions of the law.

One of the three appeals was filed for awarding death sentence to five of the convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court.

In the third appeal, the government has challenged the award of lesser sentence to 25 of the accused, who were acquitted of the charges of murder, criminal conspiracy and terrorism, but were sentenced to three-year imprisonment for lynching and one-year imprisonment for desecrating Mashal’s body.

On Feb 24, Mashal’s father, Mohammad Iqbal, had filed five appeals in Peshawar challenging the acquittal of 26 of the accused and seeking increase in the sentences of 31 convicts.

Mohammad Iqbal had also challenged the acquittal of the convicts in several of the provisions of Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act by the trial court.

The 31 convicts, including the prime accused, Imran Khan, who was handed down death sentence, had filed appeals with the PHC Abbottabad’s Circuit Bench.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2018