When the Mardan Abdul Wali Khan University incident happened in 2017, we clutched our pearls in horror and claimed that never again would we allow such vigilante mob murders to occur. Unlike previous such incidents, the accused in this case were taken action against by the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) and there was a general demand for accountability against those who took the law in their hands.

Yet, it seems like the Mashal Khan case, despite the support it is receiving from activists, might also fall prey to the legal issues that befall such cases. In a recent decision, the ATC acquitted two of the accused in the case, including Izharullah alias Joni and Sabirullah alias Sabir Mayar, as the judge ruled that the prosecution could not bring any cogent and convincing evidence against them. Mashal Khan’s father Mohammad Iqbal has filed three appeals with the Peshawar High Court (PHC) against the acquittal of the two accused and has sought death sentences for them.

It is a testament to the father, Mohammad Iqbal’s strength that, despite the setbacks and pressure to back down, he is further pursuing the cases at the PHC. Unfortunately, when it comes to such vigilante mob behaviour and false blasphemy cases, the court has often not proved an effective medium. This is not the fault of the court- there are several shortcomings in the law that makes it difficult to try perpetrators of mob violence. The evidence laws in place may work in ordinary instances of murder or theft, but when it comes to special cases such as these, where a whole mob perpetuates a murder, it is extremely difficult to prove individual intent to cause grievous bodily harm and to show direct causation between the actions of every member of the mob and the injury received by the victim.

It is clear that the drafters of the Evidence Act, which was then amended to become the Qanun-e-Shahadat, did not anticipate cases of vigilante mob violence. The lacuna in our criminal laws pertaining to these matters becomes more obvious with every such case. We saw a glimpse of the loopholes in our evidence laws in the 2014 Kot Radha Kishan trial, where 20 suspects, accused of burning alive a Christian couple, were acquitted by the ATC, and we see further evidence of the fault in our laws now with the Mashal Khan lynching incident. Let us hope the verdict this time is different.