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Released Suspects In Pakistani 'Blasphemy' Lynching Case Given Hero's Welcome

Members of a Pakistani civil-society group demonstrate against the killing of university student Mohammad Mashal Khan last year
Members of a Pakistani civil-society group demonstrate against the killing of university student Mohammad Mashal Khan last year

The suspects acquitted this week in the mob lynching of a Pakistani university student falsely accused of blasphemy received a hero's welcome following their release from detention.

The 26 people acquitted in the case were greeted by crowds of hard-line Islamists in the northwestern town of Mardan on February 8.

A Pakistani court on February 7 sentenced one person to death and five other people to life imprisonment over the lynching of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student. Twenty-five other convicts received three-year prison sentences.

Khan was killed by a mob at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan on April 13, 2017. He was accused of posting "blasphemous content" on social media.

On February 8, members of several hard-line religious parties, including Jamaat-i Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i Islam, showered those acquitted with rose petals and labelled them as "heroes."

The religious parties also announced a rally after Friday Prayers on February 9 in their honor, and to demand the release of the 31 men found to have been involved in Khan’s killing.

The attack on Khan, which was recorded on mobile phone cameras and posted online, shocked Pakistan and led to widespread condemnation -- including criticism from prominent Islamic clerics.

An official investigation later determined that Khan was falsely accused. It said the killing was instigated by members of a secular student group who felt threatened by Khan's growing prominence as a critic of rising fees and alleged corruption at the university.

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, which seek death for insulting Islam or the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, were introduced by former military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul Haq during the 1980s.

Rights activists argue that Pakistan's blasphemy laws often are misused by people trying to settle personal scores, mainly against the members of minorities.

In 2014, several hundred Muslim men bludgeoned a Christian man and his pregnant wife to death and threw their bodies in a burning brick kiln after the couple was accused of blasphemy.

With reporting by AP, Dawn, and Express Tribune

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