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, based on rumours that he has blasphemed. 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, Mr. Khan was in a university dormitory when a large group of students surrounded and attacked him along with two other 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. A police investigation has found that the rumours of blasphemy were spread to incite violence against him in apparent retaliation for issues he had raised at the university.
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.
Following the incident, authorities arrested and indicted 57 suspects in the Mashal Khan case (a 58th individual was arrested in January 2018 but, as of this update, has not been charged). The majority of these were reportedly students and university employees who were reportedly involved in the lynching.
On February 7, 2018, the Haripur Anti-Terrorism Court issued verdicts in the case. The court sentenced Imran Ali, who confessed to shooting Mr. Khan, to two counts of death by hanging. Five more individuals received life sentences for their roles in the attack, while another 25 were given sentences of four years each in prison. Twenty-six others were acquitted for lack of evidence.