PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistani court on Wednesday convicted 31 people over the campus lynching of a university student who was falsely accused of blasphemy, and sentenced one of them to death, a defence lawyer said.
The killing of student Mashal Khan, 23, last year sparked an outcry and raised fresh questions about the misuse of a harsh blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad.
Barrister Ameerullah Chamkani told Reuters one of the 31 accused had been sentenced to death, five were jailed for life and the other 25 were jailed for four years.
The court acquitted 26 others out of a total of 57 people indicted by a court late last year.
Chamkani said he was awaiting more details on the judgement.
The accused were students, teachers and some officials of the Abdul Wali Khan University named after a secular political leader in northwest Pakistan.
They all pleaded not guilty.
Khan was known as an intellectually curious and religious student who liked to debate controversial social, political and religious issues.
He was attacked and killed by a mob on the campus on April 13 after a dormitory debate about religion.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where insulting Islam’s prophet is punishable by death and blasphemy accusations stir outrage.
Even a rumour of blasphemy can spark mob violence and there have been cases of people spreading false accusations of blasphemy against enemies.
In 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he called for the blasphemy laws to be reformed.
Taseer’s killer, executed last year, has been hailed as a martyr by religious hardliners.
Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by by Robert Birsel