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31 people involved in the murder of Mashal Khan, a self-described humanist killed on his university campus last year, have been convicted today in Pakistan.

Mashal Khan, who called himself “the humanist” on his Facebook profile, was killed in April 2017 after allegations of ‘blasphemy’ were made against him. The case caused significant outrage in Pakistan from those appalled at the mob killing on a university campus which was filmed by some of those at the scene. Others continue to protest in favour of ‘blasphemy’ laws and to incite violence against anyone who is accused.

Responding to today’s sentencing, Chief Executive of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Gary McLelland, said:

“We welcome news that this investigation has taken place relatively quickly and that some of those responsible have been convicted.

“However, whilst we welcome the relatively speedy passage to justice into the tragic murder of Mahsal Khan, as an organization we stand completely opposed to the death penalty, and we call upon the Pakistan authorities to consider commuting this sentence to one of life imprisonment.

“At least part of the rationale for Mashal Khan’s murder was a blasphemy accusation. These accusations are frequently the cause of persecution and extrajudicial violence in Pakistan, and the ‘blasphemy’ laws only contribute to the hysteria surrounding such accusations. We call again for Pakistan and all other states with such laws to take actions to repeal ‘blasphemy’ laws and uphold the human rights of humanists, atheists and anyone who simply wants to engage in critical debate on religion.”

Mashal Khan in a Facebook profile photo

One death sentence for murder was handed down to a man found guilty of shooting Mashal Khan. Five others convicted of the murder were given multiple concurrent sentences. 25 others were convicted on lesser crimes, primarily due to lack of evidence that they contributed directly to the killing. Others allegedly involved in the mass incident have absconded, including some suspected of orchestrating the false allegation of ‘blasphemy’, and relatives are calling for their capture and prosecution.

A Board member of the IHEU, Ms Gulalai Ismail, was also accused of blasphemy in Paksitan in November 2017 and she has responded by taking her accuser to court for incitement to violence.

The IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2017 found incidents of “active persecution” against the non-religious in seven countries: India, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan. The Freedom of Thought Report is published online at freethoughtreport.com with the full country index at freethoughtreport.com/countries/. In the report, Pakistan is rated as meeting some of the worst boundary conditions in all four thematic areas of the report, including that “The non-religious are barred from holding government office”, “Religious instruction in a significant number of schools is of a coercive fundamentalist or extremist variety”, “There is a pattern of impunity or collusion in violence by non-state actors against the nonreligious”, and “‘Blasphemy’ or criticism of religion is outlawed and punishable by death”.

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