Mashal Khan, a liberal journalism student at Mardan’s Abdul Wali Khan University, was brutally murdered by a mob of fellow students on April 13. Incensed over claims that Mashal was an apostate, the attackers broke into his hostel room, beat him, shot him, stripped him, mutilated his corpse and threw his body from the second floor. But even by Pakistan’s standards, where the blasphemy law is often blatantly misused, Mashal’s death has proven unsettling and hard-to-shake.
It’s not only that police in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have confirmed that neither Mashal, nor his friends—who were injured by the same mob—committed any blasphemy. Nor is it the revelation, through court testimony, that the university’s administration painted the target on Mashal’s head. No, above all is the disheartening realization that this has happened before and barring a drastic change in our societal mindset, will inevitably happen again.
The ruling PMLN government didn’t even acknowledge Mashal’s lynching for three days. The PTI, whose party rules in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had a more timely response but offered little but empty promises of justice. Lawmakers in both the Senate and National Assembly have urged the government to amend the controversial blasphemy law and introduce punishments for false accusers. This is eyewash.
Mashal Khan’s sole crime was believing he had a right to express personal opinions without fear of repercussion. For this “offense,” he lost his life and his parents lost a son. Nothing we do can ever erase that sin. But, in the words of Mashal’s father, we have to send a message: neither the instigators, nor the actual attackers can be spared. Enough lives have been lost over false allegations of blasphemy; the least we can do is ensure those guilty of cold-blooded murder are never allowed to see the light of day again.
From our April 22 – 29, 2017, issue.