A Pakistani court has sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment for killing a liberal student falsely accused of committing blasphemy. Mashal Khan
, a 23-year-old journalism student and free thinker, was stripped, beaten and shot by a mob of mostly students before being thrown from the second floor of his dormitory at Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan in April 2017. Imran Ali, who admitted shooting the victim, was sentenced to death. Justice Fazle Subhan also gave four-year jail terms to another 25 accused and acquitted 26 over lack of evidence, according to court documents. The court has convicted 61 people including three absconders during a nine-month trial. The verdict was announced on Feb. 7 at Central Prison in the Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province amid tight security. The family of the deceased told media that they would challenge the anti-terrorism court's verdict to acquit 26 people. "All 26 people who have been set free by the court can be seen in video footage of the assault," Iqbal Khan, the father of Mashal Khan, told media in London, where he was invited to talk at Oxford University by the youngest Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai
. "They did not deserve to walk free. We will go to the high court to ensure justice is served." An official report concluded Mashal Khan was falsely accused of blasphemy, saying the murder was instigated by members of a secular student group who felt threatened by his growing prominence as a critic of rising fees and of alleged corruption at the university. Hundreds of supporters of Islamist parties accorded a hero's welcome to the freed suspects, showering them with rose petals. "My name is Abbas Awan. God willing, if people remember the name of apostate Mashal Khan, nobody will dare to commit blasphemy," a released defendant was filmed telling a charged crowd of Islamist parties. The video of the jubilant scenes was widely circulated on Twitter. Verdict cannot change fundamentalist mindset Archbishop Joseph Arshad
, head of the Pakistani Catholic Church, said most people in the country perceived the case as a religious issue.
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"The tragedy of Mashal Khan alone cannot change the fundamentalist mindset. Quality education is the only solution. However, we are glad that justice has been done finally. The law must prevail to correct the system so that people may find themselves more secure," he said. Father Nasir William, director of the Commission for Social Communications in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, appreciated the justice system's effort. "The open criticism and abuse of judges by our deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and hard-line clerics show there is a higher power above the judiciary. Blasphemy laws have made it easier to seek personal revenge," said the priest. "There is general aggression towards followers of other religions. The NGOs profit from blasphemy victims and clerics dominate all classes. The discussion on the tragedy of Mashal Khan will subside with time," he said. "Nobody is actually sincere to correct the circumstances. The only solution is to give equal punishment to those who register false blasphemy cases."