MARDAN (Pakistan) • Hundreds of Pakistani students beat to death a classmate known for his liberal views on a university campus in the country's conservative north-west, police and witnesses said.
Mr Mashal Khan, a journalism student, was stripped, beaten, shot and thrown from the second floor of his hostel at the Abdul Wali Khan university in Mardan. Graphic video footage from the scene shows dozens of men outside the hostel kicking and hurling projectiles at a body sprawled on the ground.
The killing on Thursday comes as the Pakistani authorities, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have been increasingly vocal over blasphemy in recent weeks.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive charge in the conservative Muslim country, and can carry the death penalty. Even unproven allegations can cause mob lynchings and violence.
"The student has been brutally murdered by his fellow students," said senior police official Niaz Saeed. "He was badly tortured after being shot at close range... He was beaten with sticks, bricks and hands."
At least 11 students have been arrested so far and the university was closed indefinitely, with the campus largely deserted late on Thursday evening.
"We are investigating the case but at this stage we cannot say anything" about the motive for the attack, Mr Saeed said.
A police source told Agence France-Presse that students had recently complained to the university authorities about Mr Khan's secular views. The source said Mr Khan and two friends had been in a debate with other students earlier on Thursday about his religious views which became so heated that teachers had to lock him in a room for his own safety.
A university official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that teachers had been forced to intervene in the debate "in a bid to save him and his two other friends, but the mob of students attacked the room and tortured and killed him".
Mr Khan was "disliked by other students for being liberal and secular and not following a religious code of life and not attending Friday prayers", the official said.
Last month, Prime Minister Sharif ordered blasphemous content to be removed from social media and perpetrators punished. The Interior Ministry also threatened to block all social media websites with blasphemous content.
Rights groups have long criticised Pakistan's colonial-era blasphemy legislation as a vehicle for personal vendettas. At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to recent think-tank report.