Mashal Khan, 23, a communications student was attacked and killed by a mob on the campus after a dormitory debate about religion. This sparked outrage in the religiously conservative country and 57 suspects were indicted over the murder. Those indicted included students, teachers and some officials of Abdul Wali Khan University.
A court in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province acquitted 26 of the suspects and sentenced 31. All the accused pleaded not guilty in the trial conducted at a high-security prison due to threats to defence lawyers and government prosecutors. The prime suspect in the case, Imran Ali, earlier confessed to shooting Mr Khan three times. He was on Wednesday given a death sentence and fined 150,000 rupees (£973).
Bilal Bakhsh, Fazal Razaq, Mujeebullah, Ashfaq Khan and Mudassir Bashir were handed life sentences of 25 years each. Mr Ali, in a confessional statement, also alleged that the university administration was culpable in the case.
The regional Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced it will appeal against the acquittals.
“We will also file an appeal for extreme punishment of those already awarded [life imprisonment] ,” a statement said.
Mr Khan was known as an intellectually curious and religious student who liked to debate controversial social, political and religious issues. Unfortunately, blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan and insulting prophet Muhammad is punishable by death. Even a rumour of blasphemy can spark mob violence and there have been cases of people misusing the law to settle scores.
Rukshana Iqbal, Mr Khan’s mother, told The Telegraph that her other children had now quit their education, fearing for their lives.
She said: “I can’t trust any university to send children to for education. My daughters were top of their classes, but their education has been disrupted.”
Before Wednesday’s hearing, the parents of the arrested suspects staged a protest after being prohibited from entering the courtroom.