Mashal Khan was a 23-year-old journalism student who liked to ask questions, however, this sincere and innocent curiosity would ultimately invoke a mob of over fifty people to take his life in the most gruesome way possible.
The location of the murder is almost as insidious as the killing. Mashal Khan was killed in the premises of his university, a place which was supposed to be a sanctuary for learning.
Reports suggest that at least 25 armed policemen were present inside the university alongside dozens of the university’s own security staff yet Mashal Khan was stripped, beaten, tortured, shot and thrown from a height with the mob making plans for burning his body before the situation deescalated.
The incident happened on 13 April 2017, over 3 years ago but even today, Mashal Khan’s stoic father, Iqbal Lala is going from court to court, attending hearings and trying to ensure justice not just for his own son but for all the sons of his soil.
“Even though I was pressurised, I couldn’t bear criminal silence, my son cannot come back but I am fighting for the sons of Pakistan, students are being killed in universities, I want this to change,” Iqbal lala told the Chief Justice of Pakistan at that time, Mian Saqib Nisar.
In an exclusive conversation with The Pakistan Daily, Iqbal Lala, who is also a renowned poet said: “My heart is broken but I want this country to have a beautiful face for the world. I believe in justice. No one could steer me away.. I stand for justice..”
The strength and determination in Iqbal Lala’s voice as he uttered these words reflect the journey of a man who saw what no father should ever witness. The tortured and mutilated dead body of his only son, Mashal Khan.
Mashal means light, a torch, a lantern, Iqbal Lala reminisces without losing an ounce of composure. There is distinct pride when Iqbal Lala speaks about Mashal, a bright student who should have had a successful future in journalism, but instead became a martyr and a victim of the most violent instincts of his peers.
The 23-year-old student was falsely accused of blasphemy, with the notice being published at the University of Mardan for everyone to see, further instigating the mob.
Before the events of Mashal’s killing transpired, he was partaking in student politics and asking for more rights for the students which had caused tensions between him and some of his peers and teachers.
Later, a Joint Investigation Team as well as the Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhua held that no evidence regarding Mashal Khan’s alleged blasphemy was produced, terming the vile act a premeditated murder which had nothing to do with blasphemy.
One of Mashal Khan’s teachers at the University of Mardan, Ziaullah Hamdard stated that the university administration was involved in the brutal murder, with notices shared regarding the false accusations of blasphemy reflecting a malicious intent not only against Mashal but two other students.
“My (intellectually) weakest students killed my strongest student,” Hamdard told this correspondent.
“Mashal Khan became a victim of the games played by politicians and generals in the name of national security,” Hamdard stated to The Pakistan Daily. He questioned why people were only being killed for blasphemy in Pakistan and not other Muslim countries.
Ziaullah Hamdard, who resigned from the university in the aftermath of Mashal Khan’s murder is currently pursuing a PhD in the UK and has almost finished writing a book on Mashal Khan’s murder and it’s impact on Pakistani society.
Initially, the prime accused in Mashal Khan’s murder case was awarded a death penalty but that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. 28 other accused were acquitted of all charges.
Barrister Amirullah Khan Chamkani had been appointed as the special prosecutor for this case and argued that a case of criminal conspiracy was proven beyond reasonable doubt which was substantiated by video evidence and witness statements during the investigation stage.
The Peshawar High Court upheld the acquittal of 28 suspects which was earlier ordered by the trial courts since video evidence did not corroborate their involvement.
The Peshawar High Court also rejected appeals by Iqbal Lala and the prosecution regarding enhancement of sentences of 25 suspects who were awarded 4 years imprisonment each for their role in Mashal Khan’s murder. The reason for the shorter sentence was that the convicts were only seen desecrating the body of Mashal Khan while their role in the murder remains unclear.
8 principal accused have been given life imprisonment for their role in Mashal Khan’s murder.
Iqbal Lala, whose business has greatly suffered due to the fight for justice for his murdered son has decided to go to the Supreme Court as the final avenue of hope.
During his fight for justice, Iqbal Lala told this correspondent that several politically influential people, including those belonging to the Awami National Party approached him for a resolution and “offered a mountain of gold” for reparations regarding the murder but Iqbal Lala stood firm against all odds in a single pursuit for justice.
Iqbal Lala expressed sadness over the fact that some of the followers of Bacha Khan, who espoused non-violence all his life tried to justify his son’s violent murder.
In one of his poems, Iqbal Lala hinges on the disparities between hope amid insurmountable despair.
“The buds will develop into flowers and flowers will bring spring.
Oh nightingales don’t leave the garden, spring is coming!
This cloud of despair will ultimately vanish and hearts will blossom with happiness.
The rain of mercy will come and bless everyone around us.
I can see autumn is leaving and the spring is coming to the garden of my country.”