A mob beat a Pakistani student to death at his university campus on Thursday after he was accused of sharing blasphemous content on social media, university and police officials said. A group of about 10 students shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack on fellow student Mashal Khan, who was stripped naked and beaten with planks until his skull caved in as other students looked on, video obtained by Reuters showed.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Mohammed is a capital crime that has dozens languishing on death row and where even an accusation can lead to violence. In recent months, Pakistan’s government has been vocal about the issue, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issuing an order last month for removal of blasphemous content online and saying anyone who posted such content should face “strict punishment under the law”.
Ten students have been arrested after Thursday’s attack the grounds of a university in the northern city of Mardan, local police chief Mohammad Alam Shinwari said.
“After severe torture that led his death, the charged students then wanted to burn his body,” said Shinwari. At least 65 people have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from a Center for Research and Security Studies report and local media. It was unclear exactly what online posting had prompted the blasphemy accusation against Khan, who was studying journalism.
One of Khan’s teachers recalled that he was a passionate and critical student. “He was brilliant ?and inquisitive, always complaining about the political system of the country, but I never heard him saying anything controversial against the religion,” said the teacher.
In 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after the governor called for reforming blasphemy laws.
Taseer’s killer, executed last year, has been hailed by religious hard-liners as a martyr to Islam and a shrine has been erected at his grave. Recently, fighting blasphemy has also become a rallying cry for the government.
Pakistani online activists believe blasphemy-related crack downs on social media are veiled attempts by the country’s powerful military to limit dissent on human rights violations.
In January, five online activists went missing and were publicly accused of blasphemy while they were absent. Four of them have reappeared and at least one has said he was abducted and interrogated by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The military has denied any part in the activists’ disappearances.