Lynching for alleged blasphemy: Is Pakistan descending into a dystopian nightmare?

Lynching for alleged blasphemy: Is Pakistan descending into a dystopian nightmare?

A medieval brutality, a very cancer of the soul, has permeated this society. Not only has it pervaded the hinterland, it has also spread to places where minds are supposed to be enlightened by knowledge and learning, writes Dawn in an  editorial on the ghastly lynching of a university student by fellow students in Mardan on Thursday.

Each ghastly detail of Nasha Khans murder illustrates this chilling fact. The 23-year-old student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan was lynched on campus by a mob of fellow students over allegations of blasphemy.

Video footage of the savagery unleashed upon the young man shows an enraged crowd beating his naked body with sticks, kicking and stoning him while raising religious slogans. Another student was also attacked for the same reason and badly injured; his whereabouts are unknown.

But why should we be surprised at this display of bestiality masquerading as virtue? After all, the road to Mashal Khan’s murder is punctuated with many a landmark pointing to where we are headed: eight people, including a child, burned alive in Gojra in 2009 on allegations of blasphemy; governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, gunned down by his security guard in 2011 for coming to the defence of a blasphemy accused; lawyer Rashid Rehman, shot dead in May 2014 for defending a blasphemy suspect; brick kiln workers Shama and Shahzad, burned alive by a mob in November 2014 on allegations of blasphemy. And this is but a partial list, even in terms of the lives lost.

For the ruin of many a life has played out in the crucible of blasphemy: people driven out of their homes, deprived of their livelihoods, sometimes even languishing in jail for years because few lawyers now have the courage to defend them.

A Pakistani fundamentalist demonstration against a film

The culpability of the state — particularly some elements of it — in bringing matters to such a pass is undeniable. For even while spewing platitudes in the name of anti-extremism, it has fed the fires of intolerance and unreason, deliberately creating an environment where mere allegations of blasphemy trigger vigilante ‘justice’ and where appeals to moderation are conflated with defending blasphemy itself.

This is a Damocles’ sword that can conveniently be used to silence anyone professing views that question or contradict the state-approved narrative. And if innocents must die in the process, then so be it.

However, while the law should take its course in punishing those guilty of Mashal Khan’s murder, voices of sanity must speak up in the face of such cynical manipulation of religious sentiment.

Imran Khan, whose party heads the KP government, has rightly condemned Mashal Khan’s lynching, vowing to resist “the law of the jungle”. He is, shamefully enough, so far among the few politicians to have taken such an unequivocal stance.

Even most of the electronic media, otherwise so loquacious, has only covered Mashal Khan’s murder in a superficial manner, carefully avoiding the real issues that underpin the tragedy. Until these are debated, and the contradictions in society acknowledged, our descent into a dystopian nightmare will continue.

Chief Justice Takes Suo Motu Notice 

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has taken notice of the lynching of a student in Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.

Taking notice of the matter, the chief justice has called report from IGP, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa within 36 hours.

The notice was taken on a news item published in a section of media containing the details of the incident.

At least 13 people have been arrested in the brutal lynching of Mashal Khan, a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University (AKWU) Mardan, who was killed by a mob of fellow students and university employees on April 13, after accusations of blasphemy.

Mardan District Police Officer Mian Saeed told The Express Tribune on Saturday that six more university employees were identified with the help of video footage of the incident and three of the employees have been arrested bringing the number of arrested individuals to 13.

“Some employees of Abdul Wali Khan University could be seen among the mob which has given the investigation a new direction for the time being,” said DPO Saeed. “These employees were very much part of the mob and this is shocking.”

He added that the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) has been included in the investigation and police is looking into different angles.

The 20 suspects that had been nominated in the FIR registered on April 14 include a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) local councillor and five employees of Abdul Wali Khan University (AKWU) Mardan. The six other people identified today, whose names have not yet been released, brings the number of AKWU employees believed to be involved in the incident to 11.

At the funeral of Mashal the local Imam refused to lead the prayers

The First Information Report, which was registered at Sheikh Maltoon police station, names Tehsil Councillor Arif, five AKWU employees: Ali Khan, an office assistant, Ajmal Mayar, an office bearer of the varsity clerks association and former office bearer of Pakhtoon Students Federation at Government Post Graduate College Mardan, Afsar Khan who is a varsity superintendent, Sajad, who works in the campus library and Nawab Ali, who works at the Physical Education department. The remaining suspects are students.

“The councillor accused in the lynching case was a diehard PTI worker,” said a local councillor, who requested not to be named due to the matter’s sensitivity. He said Arif, known locally as Arif Mardan, contested the local government elections on the party’s ticket. Arif is an office bearer of the Insaf Student Federation (ISF) Mardan district.

DPO Saeed said the Councillor has not yet been arrested because he has absconded.

The FIR registered under several sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act states that students were protesting on campus against Mashal Khan and two other students named Abdullah and Zubair, claiming they had committed blasphemy. Police was called in and the students were dispersed.

The FIR further adds that during negotiations between the administration and protesting students, police learnt that a mob had brutally murdered Mashal in a university hostel. They arrived to the spot and shifted his body to DHQ hospital for a post-mortem. According to the DPO, Khan’s autopsy report had confirmed that he died of gunshot wounds.

Lawyer and rights activist, Jibran Nasir has offered legal assistance to the victim’s family. He told The Express Tribune that a group of activists would provide the family legal support if they are unable to afford a private lawyer and a court case.

No Blasphemous Material

Speaking on the floor of the house, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak condemned the killing as ‘barbaric’ and ‘brutal’ and announced an independent judicial inquiry into it. “We have yet not found any blasphemous material in the case,” he told the lawmakers.

A senior police officer overseeing the inquiry told The Express Tribune that there were no traces of any blasphemous content on either in the victims’ cell phone or his social media account. “After a thorough analysis of the footage available, we identified 20 people,” he added. “Nine of whom are already in our custody,” he said, adding that they were being investigated.

However, the AWKU administration on Friday took a bizarre step by posting a notification on its website rusticating the deceased student along with his two friends and banning their entry into the campus for alleged blasphemy.

The university provost, Fayaz Ali Shah, however, told The Express Tribune that the students were rusticated to initiate an inquiry on some verbal complaints received by the university against the three.

“We don’t have any written or documented proof of their involvement in any blasphemous activities,” Shah said. To a question regarding the use of a judgmental tone in the notification, he said: “It must be a clerical mistake and I will check it with the officials concerned”.

Pakistanis want killers of Mashal Khan tried by a military court for terrorism

Family Refutes Allegations

Meanwhile, Mashal’s funeral prayers were offered under strict security at his native village, Zaida, in Swabi on Friday morning.  Hundreds of people, including his relatives and villagers, attended his last rites. After the funeral, Mashal’s father Iqbal Khan – who is a Pashtu poet – refuted the blasphemy allegations against his slain son. “My son would always cite the examples on the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions (RA). I know my son very well. He could not take such a step,” Iqbal said, while talking to media.

At Mashal Khan’s funeral, the imam at the local mosque refused to read the last rites, according to Swabi resident Salman Ahmed. A technician who was asked to do so in the cleric’s place was confronted by several people afterwards.

Mashal has since been buried, but his ransacked university hostel room still has posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara still hanging on the walls, along with scribbled quotes including one that reads: “Be curious, crazy and mad.”

The day before his death, a heated debate over religion with fellow students broke out at the dorm and led to people accusing Mashal of blasphemy against Islam. That attracted a crowd that grew to several hundred people, according to witnesses. Mashal did profess his faith in Islam but used to ask questions without understanding the environment in which he was living. For this he was shot, stripped and beaten up mercilessly.

Some eyewitnesses said that the police were in the campus when Mashal was alive but did not enter the hostel in which he was lynched. But the police denied this and said that he was already dead when they came to the campus and the mob was going to set his body on fire.

Mufti Naeem, chief of Jamia Binoria said tht blasphemy laws are being misused

Top Cleric Condemns Vigilante Actions

Mufti Naeem, head of Jamia Binoria, on Saturday said ulema from all sects in the country should unanimously condemn acts of violence originating from misuse of the blasphemy law.

He also said the ulema should issue a statement stating that killing an individual over blasphemy allegations is “against the Shariah as well as the law of Pakistan”.

He said this while speaking on a DawnNews programme regarding the murder of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student who lynched by an angry mob in Mardan over allegations of blasphemy.

Incidents of violence over blasphemy allegations are becoming common in Pakistan, the scholar said.

“The blasphemy law is being misused in the country,” said the religious scholar.

“People are losing the value of this (blasphemy) law,” the Mufti added, saying that religious extremism could only be eliminated if the judicial system in the country is strengthened.

Naeem said if an individual is guilty, punish them rather than dragging the case for years in court, an

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) raised grave alarm over Mashal’s lynching and urged that effective steps be taken to bring all those involved to justice and to tackle the panic and horror among citizens, especially students and the academia, in the aftermath of the barbaric murder.

A civil society organisation from Lahore also requested Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar to take a suo motu notice of the incident.

“If this incident of serious nature can happen in a university, then it is a serious message for the entire society and raises concern as to what trend we were setting in the society,” said the application, submitted before the apex court by the Civil Society Network Pakistan’s chief Abdullah Malik.

(The featured picture at the top shows Mashal Khan)