A Pakistani court last week sentenced one man to death and five to life imprisonment – while 25 others received various prison sentences – for their involvement in the murder of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student who was alleged to have committed blasphemy.

The court acquitted 26 others for lack of evidence, but Khan’s family said they would appeal their acquittal, UCAN reported. “All 26 people who have been set free by the court can be seen in video footage of the assault,” Mashal’s father, Iqbal, told media while in London. “They did not deserve to walk free. We will go to the high court to ensure justice is served.”

Protestors in Karachi call for justice following Mashal Khan’s murder on 22 April 2017.

Mashal Khan was lynched by a mob in April last year at his university in Mardan, northern Pakistan, for allegedly posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook. An investigation ordered by the court found him not guilty but that the student had been the victim of mob violence instigated by a secular group within the university who felt threatened by the journalism student’s criticism of rising fees and apparent corruption at the university.

Some of the 26 men who were acquitted by the court received a heroes’ welcome during a rally organised by right-wing Islamist groups on Friday (9 February), who called for the release of 31 men who were convicted.

On Thursday (8 February) a leader of the right-wing religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), had told the news site Dawn that the men who had been arrested were forced to confess amidst abuse and beatings while in custody. “Despite all this, the government cleared Mashal,” the leader said. “We are not going to sit quietly. We will approach the Supreme Court and challenge the punishments handed to each of the convicts.”

Meanwhile JUI-F’s senator, Mufti Abdul Sattar, said last week his party would not allow any changes to be made to the blasphemy laws of the country. He told a meeting of Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights “that the penalty of blasphemy against [the] Holy Prophet is the capital punishment which could not be changed,” as Pakistan Today reported.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan. Around 60 people have been killed after being accused of committing blasphemy since laws prohibiting blasphemy were introduced in Pakistan in 1986. The laws are often abused by those seeking to settle personal scores.