Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan, has become the latest victim of Pakistani blasphemy activists. Khan was murdered in broad daylight by a mob on the college campus Thursday. He was accused of insulting Islam by classmates after a debate on religion the day before.
But the way Khan was killed shocked liberal and secular Pakistanis, who expressed their anger and disgust on social media. Videos of the gruesome murder circulating on Twitter and Facebook show a similar style of lynching and “mob justice” that is often associated with militant Islamist groups like the Taliban and the so-called “Islamic State”.
Khan was dragged out of his dormitory by classmates, who then shot him and beat him to death. Pakistani media quoted eyewitnesses as saying Khan was forced to recite verses from the Quran before his death. Khan’s friend Abdullah was injured in the attack.
Khan’s friends and teachers described him as a curious student who often debated political and religious issues.
“Whatever he had to say, he would say it openly, but he did not understand the environment he lived in,” one of Khan’s teachers told Reuters, speaking under cover of the anonymity.
Police arrested 20 suspects involved in Khan’s murder and found no evidence to support the blasphemy allegations.
Neither Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nor any other senior government official has so far condemned the lynching.
Blasphemy is a hot topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where approximately 97 percent of its 180 million people are Muslims. Advocates have long called for reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists have said the laws have little to do with it. profanity and are often used to settle minor disputes and personal blood feuds.
But if you asked people on the streets if they were in favor of repealing the controversial blasphemy law, their answer would probably be a “no”.
“This is not about changing or repealing the law (blasphemy law), or making new laws; those who insult our religion must not go unpunished,” student Ali Asghar told DW from Lahore.
Pakistani activists say religious extremism and intolerance are no longer isolated phenomena in Islamic country
State support for fanatics
Human rights groups in the Islamic country have expressed concern over the vigilance of the crowd over accusations of blasphemy. Activists say that in Pakistan it is easy to accuse anyone of committing blasphemy, which by law carries the death penalty. Witnesses are generally not required to file a complaint against the alleged blasphemer. In many cases in the past people accused of insulting Islam or its Prophet Muhammad have been killed by angry mobs.
Rights groups say the government’s recent crackdown on suspected blasphemers is one of the main reasons for Mashal Khan’s murder, as such measures embolden religious fanatics in the South Asian country.
“The state’s dismal failure to protect Mashal Khan’s right to life has created great panic and horror among students and academics. Unless everyone who played a role in the brutal murder of Khan be brought to justice, such barbarism will only spread, “the NGO Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement Friday.
“The unease that has manifested itself in Mardan will not go away with a brief closure of the university. All those who believe in positive human values should speak out and suggest ways to prevent vigilantes from wreaking havoc by using the name of religion. To remain silent in the face of such barbarism will condemn us all as accomplices, “said the HRCP.
In March, Prime Minister Sharif issued an order for the removal of “blasphemous content” online and said anyone who posted such content should face “severe punishment under the law”.
Rights groups say authorities want to stifle dissenting voices as a growing number of people criticize government policies and actions via social media and other cyber platforms. It’s also why the Pakistani government has introduced tougher measures to control social media and the internet, rights groups claim.
Pakistani civil society alarmed at blasphemy accusations against liberal activists
In January, famous human rights activist and university professor Salman Haider disappeared from the capital Islamabad. Three other secular activists – Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza – have also disappeared. After several weeks, all these bloggers returned home, Goraya claiming to have been “kidnapped” by Pakistani law enforcement.
Many Pakistani media commentators have subsequently accused bloggers of running anti-Islam Facebook pages. A resident of Islamabad also filed a complaint with the police accusing the activists of blasphemy.
“This vigilante is supported by the state as well as by the judiciary. The clerics stir up hatred. Even civil society has not fulfilled its duties. All of this resulted in the brutal murder of Mashal Khan”, Aatif Afzal, a Islamabad- based rights activist and communications strategist with a media development organization, told DW.
Pakistan has witnessed an unprecedented rise in Islamic extremism and religious fanaticism over the past decade. Islamist groups, including the Taliban, have repeatedly targeted religious minorities in the country in order to impose strict Sharia law on people.
According to the HRCP, 2013 was one of the worst years for religious minorities in the country. Several people have been charged with blasphemy, numerous places of worship have been set on fire and houses looted across the country.
Asad Butt of the HRCP told DW that intolerance is definitely on the rise in Pakistan and that many Pakistanis regard blasphemy as an “unforgivable crime”.
But how and when did Pakistanis become so intolerant of other religions and their followers?
“Gone are the days when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and fanatics who committed such crimes,” Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW. “Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society,” he added.
Activist Afzal said the blasphemous violence will not stop in Pakistan until the government takes firm action against self-defense and those who wrongly accuse people of blasphemy.
“This may be a watershed moment in Pakistan’s war on religious extremism. But I fear political parties are taking action. They are only interested in securing their vote bank,” Afzal told DW, adding that the company Pakistani civilians would continue to exert pressure. the government to reform the blasphemy laws.