October 1st, 2020
By Hamid Riaz
After a week of marathon hearings, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) has reserved its verdict on the multiple appeals filed against earlier two judgments issued by Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) from Haripur and Peshawar. The PHC did not fix a date for the announcement of the verdict.
On February 7, 2018, an ATC in Peshawar convicted 31 out of 57 people accused of the brutal lynching case Abdul Wali Khan University student, Mashal Khan.
Imran Khan, the person who had shot Mashal had later admitted to the crime, had been awarded a death sentence by the courts while five others were punished with life imprisonment; additionally, 25 of the accused were sentenced to three years in prison and 26 of the accused were acquitted on grounds of ‘lack of evidence’.
Four other key culprits including Arif Khan, a tehsil councilor of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) absconded from the courts and was absent throughout the trial. After pressure from local stakeholders, the police were finally able to arrest all four. Another ATC in Peshawar heard the cases of these absconders and awarded life imprisonment to Arif and Asad while acquitting the others on March 21, 2019.
In addition to the appeals filed by all 33 of the convicts, several other appeals were filed by the KP government itself and Mashal’s father, Muhammad Iqbal alias Iqbal ‘Lala’, asking for the cancellation of the acquittals of all 28 of the accused.
A pain that cannot be forgotten
“Imagine raising a child, giving him love, educating him – only to have to bury his mutilated body in the prime of his youth … I want to ask you … how would you feel?” asks Iqbal Lala. “We did not just lose a son that day, we lost our dreams. After we received his dead body, Mashal’s brother, Aimal went to the local mosque only to find the Imam of the mosque announcing that no one should attend Mashal’s funeral. Can anyone feel what he felt at the time?” questions Lala. “My daughters had to discontinue their education because I was worried about their safety. My business was nearly destroyed because of the nature of the allegation against Mashal. But I could not give up on my innocent child.”
Iqbal Lala explains that fighting for justice being given to Mashal Khan has been far from being an easy task, especially when living in a region where extremist elements have a strong presence. And as the case has progressed he feels less and less threatened because of the countless people who have offered him their support for Mashal’s cause.
“I was alone when I decided to fight for Mashal and Mashal was alone when he decided to stand up for the truth. But today I don’t feel alone because so many young people have rallied behind Mahsal’s cause. As far as threats are concerned, no one has made a threat against me recently but I never forget that when Mashal was killed no one made a serious threat against his life as well. Yet we all saw what happened,” explains Iqbal.
But despite the intense pain he has felt, Iqbal’s motivation for persisting goes far beyond the feeble notion of ‘revenge’.
“I am fighting this case with the future of the nation’s children in mind. I know I will never get Mashal back but if he gets justice then maybe this environment of impunity surrounding incidents of lynching will end.”
A veteran activist himself Iqbal has an acute understanding of the historical context in which extremist ideas were injected into society. “I know those who killed him were victims of the mindset imposed on the society under Zia’s Islamist and authoritarian regime. Mashal’s questions threatened this order.”
Talking about the recent petition, Iqbal explains that it was clear from the “ocular evidence” that all those who were acquitted were part of the mob and deserve the same punishment as those who were convicted. He demands ‘complete’ justice.
“I was present in all the court hearings and I can assure you that the other side did not have much of a case. Because the video evidence is so clear. In the end, the lawyer of one of the convicts had the audacity to argue in the court that his client should be released on ‘humanitarian grounds’. Was my son not a ‘human being’?” Iqbal smirks.
Iqbal has placed all his hopes on the judicial system. And claims that even if he does not get justice from the high court he will move the Supreme Court against the culprits. Because he believes his son, his questions and his activism are worth fighting for.