Imran assures Sri Lankan president culprits will be punished

Published December 5, 2021
Pakistani industrialists pay tribute beside a photograph of late Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara, in Sialkot on December 4. — AFP
Pakistani industrialists pay tribute beside a photograph of late Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara, in Sialkot on December 4. — AFP

• 235 held in lynching case, 900 booked
• Body sent to Lahore; wife seeks justice
• Lankan PM says his country confident those involved will be brought to justice

NAROWAL: A first information report (FIR) has been registered against 900 workers of a garment factory in Sialkot for killing their Sri Lankan-national general manager and burning his body.

The Sialkot police arrested 235 people, including those who tortured Priyantha Kumara and recorded videos.

Hundreds of people, including the factory workers, protested against alleged blasphemy by Mr Kumara on Friday, tortured him to death and later burnt his body.

The FIR was registered against 900 workers of Rajco Industries on the application of Uggoki Station House Officer (SHO) Armaghan Maqt under sections 302, 297, 201, 427, 431, 157, 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code and 7 and 11WW of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The applicant admitted that the protesters had slapped, kicked, punched and hit Mr Kumara with sticks in his presence, and dragged him out of the factory on Wazirabad Road where he died. They then set the body on fire. The SHO said he was helpless in front of the mob owing to shortage of personnel.

Meanwhile, Sialkot police are conducting raids in the city, adjoining villages as well as in Sambrial, Daska and Pasrur tehsils to arrest the booked 900 suspects. Police are trying to identify the culprits through CCTV footage from the factory cameras as well as video clips that have gone viral on social media.

Read: Sialkot tragedy cannot be defended, Pakistani Americans say

The 230 arrested include two main suspects, Mohammad Talha and Farhan Idrees, and all of them have been shifted to an undisclosed location. Rajco Industries remained closed on Saturday, and its workers were on the run to evade arrest.

Mr Kumara’s post-mortem was completed at Allama Iqbal Teaching Hospital in Sialkot according to which most of his body was burnt and several bones were broken due to the torture he suffered, said hospital sources.

Sialkot Deputy Commissioner Tahir Farooq said Mr Kumara’s body had been transported to a Lahore hospital in a Rescue 1122 ambulance amid tight security. After fulfilling formalities, it would be sent to Colombo.

PML-N MNA from Sialkot Khwaja Asif visited the garment factory on Saturday and inquired about the incident. He expressed grief over Mr Kumara’s killing. Local businessmen also hung pictures of Mr Kumara outside the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry and laid garlands on it.

Businessmen put candles and rose petals next to the portrait of Priyantha Kumara. — AP
Businessmen put candles and rose petals next to the portrait of Priyantha Kumara. — AP

Quoting unidentified police sources, Geo TV said some factory workers disliked the deceased general manager, a textile engineer, for being strict in enforcing discipline. After a routine inspection on Friday morning, Mr Kumara had snubbed the sanitary staff over poor work. The channel further reported that as the factory was about to undergo a whitewash, the manager started removing posters from walls. As one of the posters was an invitation to a religious moot, some workers objected to it.

The channel’s sources said Mr Kumara offered an apology, but a supervisor instigated the workers, who attacked him. Mr Kumara ran to the roof and tried to hide under solar panels, but the enraged workers got hold of him and killed him there and then.

Mr Kumara’s grieving wife, Niroshi Dasaniyake, has pleaded with both Pakistani and Sri Lankan leaders for justice for her slain husband.

“My husband was an innocent man. I found out from the news that after working abroad for so long he had been brutally murdered. I saw on the internet how inhuman the killing was. I appeal to the Sri Lankan president and the Pakistani prime minister and president to conduct a fair investigation so my husband and our two children get justice,” she said while speaking to BBC Sinhala.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan news website, Newswire, quoted Colombo’s High Commissioner in Pakistan Vice Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama as saying that arrangements were being made to transport the remains of Mr Kumara from Lahore to Colombo on a special flight on Monday.

A preliminary report on the lynching was presented to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. The CM called for arresting the remaining suspects soon, directing the investigation report be completed soon and presented in court. Mr Buzdar vowed the culprits would not escape punishment as he was personally monitoring the progress.

Special Assistant to Punjab CM on Information Hasaan Khawar on Saturday said 118 people had been arrested, including 13 primary suspects, in over 200 raids. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Buzdar were personally monitoring the case and strict punishment would be meted out to all those involved in this brutality, he said in a joint press conference with the Punjab inspector general of police (IGP) at the Directorate General Public Relations in Lahore.

Mr Khawar said no one was allowed to take law into their hands. A departmental inquiry was also being conducted to determine how much time police took to reach the spot after receiving the first call, and strict action would be taken in case of any delay or negligence, he added.

IGP Rao Sardar Ali Khan said police took prompt action and arrested the 13 primary suspects in less than 24 hours. More than 12 hours of footage from 160 CCTV cameras and mobile data analyses of the people present on the spot had also been examined. Talking about the time police took to respond, he said they received the first call at 11:28am and at 11:45am the Uggoki SHO along with his team reached the spot.

By the time the force reached, Mr Kumara had been murdered, he said, adding that on being informed of the incident, the Sialkot district police chief and senior superintendent of police along with a heavy contingent rushed to the crime scene and brought law and order situation under control.

IGP Khan further said the Counter-Terrorism Department, Special Branch and senior officers concerned partook in the operation and a team of senior officers was investigating all aspects of the incident.

Responding to a question, the IGP said the suspects would be tried in the anti-terrorism court and the police would soon complete the investigation and present the suspects in court to punish them as soon as possible.

At a press conference on Saturday in Lahore, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned the incident and said the premier was monitoring the investigation into the case. PM Khan had given 48 hours to the investigating agencies to bring forth the facts, he said while answering a question.

He said the Sri Lankan High Commission and foreign secretary had been updated on every detail of the case and they appreciated Pakistan’s prompt response. He stressed that the culprits would be brought to book. “The lynching of a Sri Lankan citizen will not affect Pakistan-Sri Lanka bilateral relations as it was a work of a group of people and the nation or the country cannot be blamed for it,” he added.

The FM said Islamabad had also contacted the family of the deceased and would fulfil their wishes.

Mr Qureshi also tweeted that he spoke to his Lankan counterpart and offered condolences. “Spoke to my brother FM Gamini Lakshman Peiris of #SriLanka and expressed my deep grief and condolences.”

FM Qureshi added that Pakistan would ensure the perpetrators were punished. “The political leadership & Pakistani nation strongly condemn killing of a Sri Lankan national. We offer our sincere condolences to bereaved family, govt & people of #SriLanka & will ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. Such acts have no place in our faith & country,” he said in the tweet.

Earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan also spoke to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and conveyed the nation’s anger and shame to the people of Sri Lanka over the vigilante killing of Kumara in Sialkot.

In a tweet, he wrote: “Spoke to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa today in UAE to convey our nation’s anger & shame to people of Sri Lanka at vigilante killing of Priyantha Diyawadana in Sialkot. I informed him 100+ ppl arrested & assured him they would be prosecuted with full severity of the law.”

The Sri Lankan president also tweeted that his country trusted that the Pakistan government and PM would ensure justice in the case. “Deeply concerned by the incident in Sialkot #Pakistan. #SriLanka trusts that PM @ImranKhanPTI and the Gvt. of Pakistan will ensure justice is served and ensure the safety of the remaining Sri Lankan workers in Pakistan,” he wrote.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted that his country was confident his Pakistani counterpart will fulfil his commitment to bring those involved to justice. “Shocking to see the brutal and fatal attack on Priyantha Diyawadana by extremist mobs in #Pakistan. My heart goes out to his wife and family. #SriLanka and her people are confident that PM @ImranKhanPTI will keep to his commitment to bring all those involved to justice,” he tweeted.

Chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, while condemning the “shameful” incident called for a thorough investigation, but in the same breath said such attacks would happen if the state did not act against those suspected of committing blasphemy. “In the past, such reactions have come when those accused of blasphemy have been sent abroad under government supervision,” he said in an indirect reference to Asia Bibi.

Former chairman of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, also condemned the incident but called on the media to desist from blaming any group or individual before completion of the investigation into the matter.

In a statement, he said there were no grounds to take the law into one’s hands when a constitutional and legal system existed in the country despite all the shortcomings it may have.

“Anarchy and lawlessness spread in society, which are not in any way beneficial for the country, and a negative image of the country is created on the international level,” the statement quoted him as saying.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2021

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