A Pakistani court sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment on Wednesday for lynching a student accused of blasphemy in a highly-charged case that sent shockwaves through the conservative Muslim country.

The lynching of Mashal Khan over blasphemy accusations sent shockwaves through Pakistan AFP/RIZWAN TABASSUM

HARIPUR, Pakistan: A Pakistani court sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment on Wednesday (Feb 7) for lynching a student accused of blasphemy in a highly-charged case that sent shockwaves through the conservative Muslim country.

Last April, Mashal Khan, 23, was stripped, beaten and shot by a gang of mostly students before being thrown from the second floor of his dorm at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan.

“One of the accused has been awarded a death sentence, (five) were given life imprisonment while 26 have been acquitted,” Saad Abbasi, a defence lawyer representing the accused, told AFP at the prison where the verdict was announced.

An additional 25 were given three-year sentences, he added.

Ahead of the verdict announcement, heavy security was deployed at the jail in the city of Haripur where the accused were detained, with the area cordoned off by around 300 regular police and elite commandos.

The brutality of the attack, which was recorded on mobile phone cameras and posted online, stunned the public and led to widespread condemnation – including from prominent Islamic clerics – with protests erupting in several cities.

Students who participated in the lynching were later rounded up after being identified using CCTV footage from the university and video clips.

An official report released months later concluded Khan was falsely accused, saying the murder was instigated by members of a secular student group who felt threatened by Khan’s growing prominence as a critic of rising fees and alleged corruption at the university.

Blasphemy is an enormously sensitive charge in Pakistan, and a criminal offence that can carry the death penalty.

While the state has never executed anyone under blasphemy laws, mere allegations have prompted mob lynchings and lesser violence.

Since 1990, vigilantes have been accused of murdering 65 people tied to blasphemy, according to research compiled by the Center for Research and Security Studies think-tank.



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