A peace march was held in the Pakistani city of Lahore to commemorate a student murdered after being falsely accused of committing blasphemy. The march and a re-enactment of the lynching were dedicated to the memory of Mashal Khan
, a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University in the city of Mardan. The event on April 13 reflected growing student activism in the region following protests in Bangladesh on April 8 when thousands of students demanded drastic reform to the country's civil service quota system. Khan, 23, was stripped, beaten and shot by a mob of mostly students on April 13, 2017, over fake allegations of posting blasphemous content online. A Pakistani court has sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment over the killing. On the first anniversary of Khan's death, the Azad Fankaar (free actors) team re-enacted the events leading up to the student's murder. "We also have a voice, we are also Mashal," cried the actors, wearing red arm bands, while performing before a crowd of more than 300 in front of Lahore Press Club. The Progressive Students Collective (PSC) organized the "March for Mashal," which also included theater, poetry recitals and singing performances. PSC coordinator Haider Kaleem said the event was almost cancelled due to a massive lockdown on April 12 when Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TYLR) activists demanded the dropping of police cases against its members and for the government not to weaken anti-blasphemy laws
. Similar protests in November 2017 ended after the resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Several Catholic-run schools in Lahore were closed on April 13 as commuters faced traffic jams due to the lockdown. Schools also had to cancel exams. A Punjab government spokesman confirmed early on April 13 that it had agreed to the TYLR's demands and that the protests will cease. "Our march was first planned in front of Punjab Assembly and the venue was changed to avoid any clash [with activists of TLYR]. We did not want to risk the well-being of comrades given the situation as chances of a scuffle were very high. Many people could not join due to the confusion," Kaleem told ucanews.com. "We believe that the attack on Mashal
was an attack on all those who wish to understand this world and seek a better future. Campuses should be free from violence. Representation of students should be ensured in educational institutes around the country to bring forth their right demands and revive the damaged structure." Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of Pakistan's Centre for Social Justice, said its community had been broken by years of persecution.
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"Both prosecution and government are not paying attention in punishing the murderers of Mashal. The innocent youth is a clear example of abuse. They have failed in protecting the innocent from blasphemy laws, thus increasing victimization. The government needs to choose between rational liberals or those who take the state hostage," he said. Media reports say fear of violence still prevails in Khan's home village, where three police constables are guarding his grave 24 hours a day.