On April 13, 2017, Mashal Khan, a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in the northern city of Mardan, was attacked and killed by a mob after being accused of blasphemy. Two other students who were with Mr. Khan when he was attacked were reportedly injured as well.
Local police reported that rumors had been circulating among the student body that Mr. Khan maintained a Facebook page that published blasphemous content. On the afternoon of April 13, he was in the university cafeteria, talking with two other students, when a large group of students surrounded and attacked the three men. Sources indicate that the group stripped Mr. Khan of his clothing and beat him to death with wooden planks; several sources suggest that he was also shot at close range. The two students who were with Mr. Khan were also beaten, but reportedly escaped with the assistance of the police.
In response to the attack and campus protests that followed, AWKU officials announced that they ordered the university closed until further notice. As of this report, a police investigation is ongoing.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about the killing of a student, and injuries to several others, apparently in response to the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the tragic harm to the immediate victims and their families, violent attacks on students or other higher education community members chill academic freedom and undermine university autonomy. Higher education leaders and state authorities have a responsibility to ensure the safety of students, scholars, and administrators on campus, and to investigate attacks on higher education communities and their members.