In a grisly incident, a top Sri Lankan executive of a garment factory was lynched and his body burnt by angry supporters of a hardline Islamist party which attacked the facility in Pakistan’s Punjab province over blasphemy allegations on Friday, police said.
Priyantha Kumara, who was in his 40s, was working as the general manager of the garment factory in Sialkot district, some 100 km from Lahore, a Punjab police official told PTI.
“Mr Kumara allegedly tore a poster of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in which Quranic verses were inscribed and threw it in the dustbin. The poster of the Islamist party was pasted on the wall adjoining the office of Kumara. A couple of factory workers saw him removing the poster and spread the word in the factory,” the official said.
Hundreds of men, enraged over the “blasphemy” incident, started gathering outside the factory from adjoining areas. Most of them were activists and supporters of the TLP.
“The mob dragged the suspect (the Sri Lankan national) from the factory and severely tortured him. After he succumbed to his wounds, the mob burnt his body before police reached there,” the official said.
Several videos were circulated on social media showing hundreds of men gathered at the site surrounding the body of the Sri Lankan national. They were chanting slogans of the TLP.
The Imran Khan government had recently lifted a ban on the TLP after signing a secret agreement with it after which its chief Saad Rizvi and over 1,500 activists accused of terrorism were released from jail.
The TLP, in return, had ended its week-long sit-in in Punjab after withdrawing its demand of expelling the French ambassador on the issue of blasphemous cartoons in France.
100 Suspects Arrested
Late on Friday evening, Punjab Police said they have arrested 100 suspects, after identifying them through video footage.
“We have arrested 100 suspects allegedly involved in the lynching of the Sri Lankan national under terrorism and other charges,” Inspector General Police (Punjab) Rao Sardar Ali Khan said in a statement.
“More arrests are being made and those involved in this gory incident will not be spared,” he declared.
Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Farukh Habib said in a tweet: “We are investigating. The main culprit named Farhan Idrees has been arrested. 100 others are in custody.”
He added, “Condemn the horrific mob attack on the Sri Lankan factory manager burnt alive in Sialkot.”
The incident has sparked widespread condemnation from all walks of life.
Pak PM Imran Khan Calls It ‘Horrific’
Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a tweet: “The horrific vigilante attack on a factory in Sialkot & the burning alive of a Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan. I am overseeing the investigations & let there be no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law. Arrests are in progress.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan President Arif Alvi tweeted: “The Sialkot incident is definitely very sad & shameful, and not religious in any way whatsoever. Islam is a religion that established cannons of deliberative justice rather than mob lynchings.”
In Colombo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sugeeswara Gunaratne told the Associated Press that their embassy in Islamabad was verifying details of the incident with Pakistani authorities.
“Sri Lanka expects that the Pakistan authorities will take the required action to investigate and ensure justice,” he was quoted as saying.
Special Representative to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, said that the killing of the factory manager on allegations of blasphemy is “regrettable” and “condemnable”.
The Pakistan Ulema Council strongly condemns the Sri Lankan national’s murder, he said, adding that those responsible will be arrested and justice served.
Ashrafi said that the country has laws that deal with blasphemy and by taking the law into their hands, “the attackers have insulted our laws as well”.
“Those who killed the Sri Lankan manager in Sialkot have committed an un-Islamic, inhumane act,” Ashrafi said, adding that he is “ashamed” over the act.
Condemning the incident, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International demanded an impartial investigation.
“PAKISTAN: Amnesty International is deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, allegedly due to a blasphemy accusation. Authorities must immediately conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.”
“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment that enables abuse and puts lives at risk must be rectified,” it said in a series of tweets.
Pakistan has extremely strict laws against defaming Islam, including the death penalty, and rights campaigners say they are often used to settle personal disputes in the Muslim-majority country.
A US government advisory panel report says Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world.
Mere allegations of blasphemy have triggered violence against minorities like Christians.
Several persons accused of committing blasphemy have been lynched in recent years. (PTI)