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Pakistan: Silencing dissent and lynching Mashal

Wednesday 19 April 2017, by siawi3


Zahid Hussain

19 April 2017

MASHAL Khan was neither the first nor is he the last victim of the religious bigotry that has become so pervasive in our society. The gruesome lynching of the young Mardan university student shows how easy it is to inflame a mindless mob in the name of faith. The men who pumped bullets into Mashal and beat his lifeless body were mostly his fellow students.

Most horrific was the alleged role of some faculty members and university employees in inciting the students to violence and that too on trumped-up blasphemy charges. A seat of higher learning was the venue of the incident and a mob of educated men were involved in this beastly act. This kind of medieval barbarity is unprecedented even in this country where human life comes cheap.

It was murder most foul and the motive was to silence a brilliant student who dared to speak his mind and question what was going wrong at the university and in the country. It apparently angered some in the university management and they sought to teach him a lesson for being so outspoken. The charge of blasphemy came in handy to inflame sentiments.

There is no shortage of bigots devoid of any sense of reasoning. However educated they may be, they are ready to kill in the name of faith. It took no time at all for a mob to gather, many of them not even very religiously motivated, just a mindless lot. Even watching a grainy video of the violence makes one sick. One wonders if they were even human beings.

Another horrific part of the incident was the reported involvement of members of some political parties, including an elected district councillor, in the gruesome act. A video showed them celebrating the killing. That raises many questions about the conspiracy to murder. It is intriguing that persons with disparate political affiliations joined hands in carrying out the crime. It gives the incident a new twist. It seems a clear case of using blasphemy allegations to cover up the actual reason behind the murder.
Certain sections of society have whipped up sentiments over ‘blasphemous’ social media material.

Mashal was a progressive person who had a thinking mind, a rare commodity in the increasingly regressive atmosphere that prevails in our educational institutions. Decades of nurturing religious extremism by the state have produced a culture of violence and intolerance, causing the space for rational thinking to shrink.

The April 13 tragic incident cannot be seen in isolation. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a systematic campaign initiated by a section of the government, judiciary and media to whip up public sentiments over ‘blasphemous’ material on social media. Progressive bloggers are hunted and picked up without any evidence of their being involved in any blasphemous activity. The frenzy generated by the campaign has further empowered the radicalised section of society and hard-line clerics to question the religious belief of anyone who dares to differ with their retrogressive interpretation of religion.

Even the prime minister has not been spared the allegations of committing blasphemy for remarks he made in his speech at a Diwali celebration by the Hindu community. It was not just hard-line clerics but even some so-called TV commentators who led the campaign against him. Among them was a retired senior air force officer-turned-defence analyst. It reminds one of the inquisition in Europe during the Middle Ages, where everyone was suspected of having heretical propensities. Even an accusation is licence to kill, thus generating an atmosphere of fear. Silence of the administration regarding targeted religion-based killings has further emboldened the extremist elements.

One example of how the murderers are glorified is the construction of the grand mausoleum of Mumtaz Qadri on the outskirts of Islamabad. The murderer of the former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer is being projected as a martyr of the faith and as a saint. Thousands of devotees visit the shrine; among them retired judges and politicians. They come to pay homage to a convicted murderer. The administration appears completely helpless in the face of this defiance of law and justice. This weakness of the state, or rather its complicity, has been a major factor in causing incidents like the Mardan lynching.

Surely most of the perpetrators of this murder have been arrested and are likely to be indicted. But it is not just about this one incident, it is about the culture of impunity that legitimises killing merely on the accusation of blasphemy. Despite the public outrage over the savagery there are many clerics and members of Islamic parties who are not willing to condemn last week’s incident. Is there any complicity or fear of annoying their conservative constituency? It may be both.

Initially, the reaction from some mainstream political parties was muted and it was only after the media highlighted the crime that they picked up the courage to deplore the killing. It is both fear and political expediency that caused this ambiguity. The gruesome killing may have sent shock waves across the country, but as in the past, one fears it could also prove transient and be forgotten with the passage of time. It is not enough to condemn this act of terrorism, there is now a need to take concrete steps to counter the growing religious extremism in the country.

The latest tragedy has provided an opportunity for the political leadership to work towards amending the blasphemy law to stop its misuse and to prevent Mardan-like incidents from happening in the future. There is a need to build a national consensus on reforming the blasphemy law before it is too late. The scourge of extremism cannot be eliminated without taking some bold measures to deal with the sources.

By silencing Mashal, the extremists have sent a loud and clear message. But does the political leadership have the courage and will to confront the challenge upfront? One hopes the Mardan tragedy will shake them out of their apathy.

The writer is an author and journalist.



Only memories are left of Mashal, the idealist who always wanted to learn more

Hurmat Ali Shah

Updated a day ago

A mob lynched Mashal Khan last week at the premises of his university on the allegation of blasphemy. Factually, the statement is accurate, but reducing the incident to newspeak is simplistic and incomplete, for it fails to capture what Mashal’s life story was.

Mashal was cousin to a friend of mine. I talked to him the day after Mashal was killed, and what he told me shattered me into pieces.

Mashal’s father, Iqbal Shayar, didn’t have a stable source of income but he was always ready to do any kind of work in order to put food on the table for his family. He is also a poet. A man of letters, he never let poverty be an affront to his family’s dignity and instilled in his children the love for reading and critical thinking.

On the same topic: I’ve known Salman Haider for 14 years and he is not anti-Islam

It was hard for the father to pay for his son’s formal schooling, but it was a struggle he undertook with pride. Mashal went to the Institute of Computer and Management Sciences on a scholarship and got the best marks in F.Sc at his college. He then secured a partial scholarship to study engineering in Moscow but unfortunately had to return to Pakistan after just one year since his family was unable to pay for the rest of his degree.

After coming back, Mashal didn’t follow the conventions and look for a job. He had other convictions. He believed that he would be more useful to society if he went into civil services, so he enrolled into Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan to do a Master’s in mass media and journalism and prepare for his civil services exams.

VIdeo here

Mashal’s father supported his son’s decision. Given the financial hardships, it would have made more sense for Mashal to work and support his family financially. Yet, his father didn’t stand in the way of his son’s noble desire to continue studying. This is what enlightened people do; they prefer idealism, public service and social betterment over material gains.

But the mob that killed him had a different vision. Mobs don’t appear out of a vacuum and public violence is never apolitical. Rather, mobs are products of a long process of social engineering. They are conditioned into self-righteousness by a constant of stream of villainous ideas and statements, whereby a beautiful soul like Mashal is dehumanised to the point that his lynching became a necessity and a celebration.

Read more: Khurram Zaki - The voice that spoke for the dead

Mobs go on rampage to silence those who dissent. Their goal is to publically reinforce the boundaries of what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. A mob can become active at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t wait for or need proof; if it smells blood, it unleashes itself.

After Mashal’s death, I wondered if it was just a matter of him being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The answer was ‘no.’ Mobs are products of a society that wants conformity; an inquisitive and humanistic person like Mashal was always in danger of facing its wrath no matter where and when.

Mob violence is also a collective loss – last week it was Mashal, before him there have been many others, and next week it can be any of us who is killed on mere suspicion of blasphemy.
As if exploitation of blasphemy laws by mobs wasn’t enough, instrumentalisation of this law by the state to silence dissent and criticism has added to its misuse. As long as the state thinks that it’s justified in regulating people’s opinions by using the blasphemy card, lives of people like Mashal will continue to be the collateral damage of this policy.

Mashal’s father has kept his composure. When I listen to him, I’m amazed by his strength and perseverance. He insists that his son did no wrong and that he educated him, despite all the hardships, to make him a useful member of the society. Being a poet that he is, he reinforces his words by reciting Pashtu and Urdu verses. One phrase that he said about Mashal is still ringing in my ears: “sunrays can’t be chained.â€

Video here

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer who writes on politics, society and culture. He currently is pursing a PhD degree.



New video shows Mashal’s killers celebrated lynching, pledged to conceal shooter’s identity

Ali Akbar, Hassan Farhan

Updated a day ago

A new video circulating on Tuesday contains footage of scenes following the Mardan university lynching and shows a man demanding that a group of students take an oath to conceal the identity of the man who shot 23-year-old Mashal Khan.

Mashal, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, had been lynched moments before the video was made over allegations of blasphemy.

The video shows the mob involved in the lynching shouting religious slogans and congratulating each other over the brutal episode.

In the video, a man who appears to be the ringleader, Arif, is heard proclaiming that anyone who names the shooter will be considered “a blasphemer”.

The following is the text of the slogans being chanted in the video:

"Congratulations, congratulations!

Silence, silence!

Whoever shot him [Mashal], don’t take his [the shooter’s] name

Whoever takes his [shooter’s] name will commit blasphemy. If you want to file an FIR, my name is Arif"

The declaration appears to be a veiled threat to silence those who may testify against the murder and protect the main culprits.

Arif names himself and his father and states that anyone who wished to lodge a First Information Report in the case is free to nominate him for the murder.

According to university students, Arif does not attend Abdul Wali Khan University, but has been allowed on the premises on several occasions. Local media reports say he is the general secretary of the Insaf Student Federation, which is the student wing of the ruling party in KP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

An investigation into the Mardan university lynching has been initiated, but the identity of Mashal’s shooter is yet to be determined.

A postmortem report of Mashal’s killing states a gunshot wound was the cause of death, but also noted that the body had been subjected to serious trauma.

Meanwhile, the administration of Abdul Wali Khan University on Tuesday suspended seven of its employees in connection with the murder of Mashal Khan.



I was forced to testify against Mashal but refused, says Mardan lynching survivor

Ali Akbar

Updated 2 days ago

Abdullah, one of the three students accused of spreading “blasphemous content” by the mob that killed Mashal Khan, has rejected all allegations against him.

In a statement recorded before a judicial magistrate in Mardan, Abdullah said a group of students accused him, Mashal and a third student, Zubair with blasphemy, a charge he rejected.

The students, which included Muhammad Abbas, Mudassir Bashir (the class representative) and some other students, also asked Abdullah to testify that Mashal had committed blasphemy, which he refused.

Abdullah was later attacked by the same students while he was hiding in the bathroom of the chairman’s office until he was rescued by the police, his statement said.

Abdullah said his friendship with Mashal had developed two months ago as the two shared similar views.

Giving his account of the events that unfolded prior to Mashal’s lynching, Abdullah said on April 13, around 11am, Muhammad Abbas called him and asked him to come to the journalism department.

When Abdullah reached there, he found Mudassir Bashir (the class representative) and some other students who charged him and Mashal with blasphemy and alleged that they had “deviated from the right path, along with Zubair”.

When Abdullah refuted the allegations and recited the Kalma-i-Tayyaba to prove them wrong, the students asked him to instead testify that Mashal had committed blasphemy and “has evil designs towards the religion of Islam”.

“But I refused as I never heard any unparliamentary, scandalous as well as blasphemous words from Mashal’s mouth,” Abdullah said in his statement.

During the course of these events, three teachers locked Abdullah in the bathroom of the chairman’s office purportedly to save him from the enraged students. While the teachers were trying to diffuse the situation, a mob had started to gather. At this time, according to Abdullah, Mashal was “reportedly in the hostel”.

The mob broke down the bathroom door and beat Abdullah up “with fists and blows”, until he was rescued by local police and some sympathising students.

Abdullah said he found out in the hospital that Mashal had been “brutally murdered” by the students. He claimed that he can identify some of the attackers behind Mashal’s lynching through video footage.

Abdullah said he voluntarily contacted police to record his statement, adding: “I want justice not only for me but for Mashal Khan as well as we were innocent.”

The lynching survivor further said prior to the events of April 13, the university administration “was deadly against Mashal Khan” because he had criticised the loopholes in the university’s administration and the misuse of authority by university officials.

No evidence that Mardan university students committed blasphemy: IG KP

Inspector General Police (IGP) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Salahuddin Khan Mehsud on Monday said an initial investigation into Mashal’s lynching last week revealed there was nothing concrete to suggest that any of the three accused had committed blasphemy.
IG KPK Salahuddin Khan Mehsud ─ DawnNews

“There is nothing concrete to suggest that Mashal, Abdullah, or Zubair had committed blasphemy, according to the investigation,” Mehsud said.

The KP police chief said 59 suspects had been arrested in connection with the case, out of which six were university officials.

Police had registered a first investigation report (FIR) against 20 suspects, of which 16 have been arrested so far.

The IG stated that during the investigation 11 more suspects were identified, of which six have been arrested.

“This university has been problematic in the past, and our police officers frequently come and go on campus,” he said. “There is a disciplinary problem with the students at the university.”

The investigating officers did not find anything implicating the victims prior to the murder, but after the lynching, “lots of activity started to occur on social media,” the IG KP said, adding that the police had sought the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) help to investigate blasphemous content on social media.



Lynching suspect gives statement: ’University administration asked me to testify against Mashal’

Ali Akbar

Updated 2 days ago

A student arrested in the Mashal Khan lynching case on Monday has said that the administration of Abdul Wali Khan University asked him to testify against the deceased.

The accused, Wajahat, admitted that he was part of the mob which lynched the 23-year-old Mardan university student.

His statement comes hours after Abdullah, a student who survived despite being beaten violently, said he was asked to testify that Mashal had committed blasphemy — a request which he refused.

Suspect Wajahat also claimed in his statement that on April 13 he was called to the chairman’s office by class representative Mudassir Bashir, who asked him to testify against Mashal before the university administration.

“Some 15 to 20 people, including university officials were present at the chairman’s office.”

“The administration had convened the meeting to decide the case of Mashal Khan and Bashir had called me to be a witness regarding the blasphemous ideas of Mashal Khan,” said the accused. Despite senior police officials saying they have found no evidence to suggest Mashal had engaged in activity amounting to blasphemy, Wajahat claims Mashal ’committed blasphemy’.

He also alleged that the security in-charge of the university, Bilal Baksh, said those that step forward to protect Mashal and his supporters would be dealt with “an iron hand”.

Baksh, according to Wajahat, further said that he would kill Mashal.

“Hearing this, the congress turned into a violent mob and rushed towards the hostel,” said Wajahat.

In the statement, Wajahat has said that if he had known what the administration was conspiring against Mashal, he would have never come to the university on that day.

On April 13, Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan student Mashal Khan, 23, was shot and beaten to death by a violent mob on university premises.

The mob had also wanted to burn his body before police intervened, a senior police official had said. He had been accused of blasphemy by fellow students.

Another student, Abdullah, was beaten bloody before police managed to rescue him from his attackers. An eyewitness said he was accused of belonging to the Ahmadi faith and forced to recite verses from the Holy Quran, then beaten savagely even though he repeatedly denied the accusation.

No case had been filed against the two students prior to the incident and police had not been investigating the two on blasphemy charges.

The mob instead seems to have been incited by rumours circulating among the university’s student body.

Nonetheless, the university said it would investigate three students, including Mashal and Abdullah, for alleged blasphemous activities and ordered them rusticated and banned from the premises of all campuses of the university.

The notification, dated April 13, did not mention any details of the incident or a condemnation of the student’s killing, even though the university’s provost, Fayyaz Ali Shah, said it had been issued after the lynching.

However, Khyber Pakhtun­khwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on Saturday told the KP assembly that no evidence had been found to suggest that Mashal Khan had committed blasphemy.

“The mobile phone record of the victim has been checked by the police but there was nothing against Islam,” he told the province’s lawmakers.

“Since the occurrence of the incident, I have been in contact with the inspector general of police; so far, no evidence has emerged to show that blasphemy was committed by the victim,†he said, adding that such brutality would not be tolerated.

A judicial inquiry was ordered into the case. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also taken notice of the incident.