Student murdered by mob over "blasphemy" at Pakistan university

Mashal Khan, a journalism student at the Abdul Wali Khan University, was killed by fellow students over allegations of blasphemy. People across the country have protested the murder.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

There were protests in Pakistan's biggest cities against the killing of Mashal Khan. Mashal was described by teachers as a "passionate and critical student."

In a case that has once again pushed Pakistan's blasphemy law into the spotlight, a university student was killed by an enraged mob on Thursday over accusations that he shared offensive content on social media.

There were protests against the killing across Pakistan on Friday.

Mashal Khan, a journalism student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was stripped, beaten, shot, and thrown from the second floor of his hostel, police said.

Graphic video footage from the scene shows dozens of men outside the hostel kicking and hurling objects at a body sprawled on the ground.

Ten students were arrested after the killing and dozens more were identified as suspects, local police chief Mohammad Alam Shinwari said.

"After severe torture that led to his death, the charged students then wanted to burn his body," said Shinwari.

The chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pervaiz Khattak, said investigators had so far found no evidence of offensive content on Mashal's social media accounts or his mobile phone.

Khattak said the killing was likely a result of a personal spat and that accusations of blasphemy were used to incite the mob.

"A proper inquiry should be carried out and deserving punishment be given so that so that nobody can take such a step in the future. We should move forward by making this an example," Khattak was quoted as saying by Geo News.

It was unclear exactly what had prompted the blasphemy accusation against Mashal.

Police search the dorm room of Mashal Khan. Source: Reuters

'Brilliant student'

One of Mashal's teachers recalled that he was a passionate and critically minded student.

"He was brilliant ‎and inquisitive, always complaining about the political system of the country, but I never heard him saying anything controversial against the religion," said the teacher.

A police source told AFP that students had recently complained to university authorities about Mashal's views.

The source said Khan and two friends had been in a debate with other students earlier Thursday about his religious views which became so heated that teachers had to lock him in a room for his safety. 

"But the enraged students grew to a mob and they attacked the room," the source said.

Blasphemy law

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive charge in Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty. Even unproven allegations have led to mob lynchings and violence.

Rights groups have long criticised the colonial-era legislation as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to Centre for Research and Security Studies report and local media before Thursday's killing.

Activists have also accused religious conservatives of using blasphemy as a means of muzzling dissent.

TRTWorld and agencies