A large group of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) workers gathered at the Mardan Motorway Interchange on Wednesday to protest an Anti-Terrorism Court’s (ATC) verdict in the Mashal Khan murder case.
The crowd chanted slogans against the slain Mashal Khan and vowed to “move the Supreme Court against the verdict”.
Talking to DawnNews, a JUI-F worker said that they had congregated there to “welcome” the 26 “heroes” who had been acquitted by the ATC earlier today.
Six of the acquitted had reached Mardan, two had gone to Swat while others were on their way, local sources said. One person, who was released by the ATC earlier today, was welcomed and garlanded by a jubilant crowd as he got off from a car.
Addressing the crowd, JUI-F’s provincial general secretary Maulana Shujaul Mulk said that “this issue [of Mashal Khan’s verdict] will not end here”. He also criticised the government for supporting the verdict.
Another provincial party leader warned that if the government did not release the convicts that were sentenced by the ATC, JUI-F will hold protests and added that the party “will not sit quietly [till the convicts are released]”.
An ATC in Haripur jail had announced its verdict in the Mashal Khan lynching case earlier on Wednesday, handing one person two death sentences, five persons multiple terms of life imprisonment, and 25 others jail sentences, but acquitting 26 others for want of sufficient evidence.
Of the total 61 suspected of involvement in the lynching ─ the majority of them students and university employees and a tehsil councillor belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ─ charged in the first information report, 57 had been arrested within a few days of the incident.
A 58th suspect who was arrested in Jan 2018 has yet to be charged.
Mashal Khan, 23, a student of Mass Communications at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University, was beaten and shot to death by an angry mob on April 13, 2017, after he was accused of blasphemy.
The lynching took place within the premises of the university and was caught on video which later circulated on social media. The horrific incident shocked the nation and sparked a debate over the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.