Pakistan: Murderer Sentenced to Death After Killing 'Anti-Islamic' Student in Blasphemy Row

A Pakistani court issued the death sentence to a man involved in the lynching of a university student falsely accused of blasphemy.

The court also convicted another 30 people linked to the murder of Mashal Khan, 23, in 2017.

All the defendants, five of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment and the rest to four years in jail, pleaded not guilty.

Khan's death sparked outrage in the country and raised questions on its harsh blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammed or Islam.

Khan was known as an intellectually curious and religious student who liked debating controversial social, political and faith-based issues, Reuters reported.

The student, who had often been accused of holding "anti-Islam" views, was killed at the Abdul Wali Khan University campus after a debate on religion on April 13.

Hundreds of students and some university staff members searched for him, dragged him from room and beat him. Khan was then shot and his body was defiled.

A police investigation later said there was no evidence Khan had committed blasphemy.

A total of 58 people were tried for Khan's murder. Following the court's verdict on Wednesday (February 7), Khan's father, Muhammad Iqbal Khan, told the BBC justice had not been done.

"I don't understand how several people were acquitted despite very clear videos and other evidence," he said.

Pakistan blasphemy
Pakistani demonstrators take part in a protest the killing of journalism student Mashal Khan in Karachi on April 22, 2017. In January 2018, a court sentenced one man to death and convicted another 30 people linked to the murder. RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

Blasphemy law in Pakistan

Pakistan's penal code states: "Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both."

In 1982, a clause prescribed life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Quran.

Four years later, an additional clause punished blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was "death, or imprisonment for life."

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was arrested and put on death row in 2010, after she was found guilty of making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim.

The incident occurred in 2009, when Bibi was asked to fetch water at her workplace. Some women objected because Bibi was a non-Muslim, and as such was not allowed to touch the water bowl, let alone drink from it—which she was also accused of doing.

She is still in prison.

A British man diagnosed with schizophrenia was sentenced to death for blasphemy in March 2014. He is currently on death row.

Two high-profile politicians—then-Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti—were murdered in 2011, after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi's trial as flawed.

Taseer's killer was executed last year. He had been hailed as a martyr by religious hardliners.

In October 2014, a Christian couple was beaten and burned alive in a kiln by an angry mob following allegations of blasphemy.

Earlier in February, Human Rights Watch condemned the prolonged trial of a professor accused of blasphemy. Junaid Hafeez was arrested in 2013 after being accused of blasphemy on Facebook, something he denies.

The organization said the case has repeatedlychanged judges since the trial began.

"The delay in Hafeez's case is just one example of the denial of a fair trial to those facing blasphemy charges," said the group.

"Blasphemy suspects often find it extremely difficult to find legal representation because of threats and violence against legal counsel.

"The government's indifference to the abuses under the blasphemy law and the violence it provokes is discriminatory and violates rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression."