Today's Paper | January 27, 2022

Updated 04 Dec, 2021 07:26am

Sialkot mob lynches Sri Lankan factory manager, burns corpse over blasphemy allegations

A mob in Sialkot tortured a Sri Lankan man, who was working as a manager at a local factory, to death over blasphemy allegations before burning his body on Friday, police said.

Sialkot District Police Officer Umar Saeed Malik identified the man as Priyantha Kumara.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the "horrific, vigilante attack" on the factory and the burning alive of the Sri Lankan man "was a day of shame for Pakistan".

"I am overseeing the investigations and, let there be no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with the full severity of the law. Arrests are in progress," he said.

In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that the "cold-blooded murder" by the mob in Sialkot was "condemnable and shameful". "Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost," the ISPR said.

The statement added that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa had directed for all-out support to the civil administration to arrest the perpetrators of this "heinous crime" and bring them to justice.

Speaking to the media hours after the incident alongside Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister on Information Hassan Khawar and Punjab IG Rao Sardar Ali Khan, Special Representative for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi condemned the lynching on "behalf of all ulemas" and said that it had "defaced Islam".

Ashrafi said that the country had laws when it comes to Namoos-i-Risalat (the sanctity of the Prophet). He said that those responsible for the incident had not served the country or Islam and had gone against the religion.

"The elements involved in the incident have tried to damage Islamic laws and teachings," he said, adding that the culprits will be punished for the "barbarism".

Offering his condolences to the victim's family, Ashrafi said that the country's religious scholars will hold a joint press conference at a later date. "We will also go to the Sri Lankan embassy for condolences."

He added that so far 50 people have been arrested and officials were working on identifying more culprits using CCTV footage.

Later in the day, the Punjab police said that 100 people, including one of the main culprits had been arrested, adding that the Punjab IG was overseeing the matter.

During the press conference, the Punjab IG said that police first received information of the incident at 11:26am and officials reached the scene at 11:46am. "We are probing the facts and also looking at the police response, whether there was any sort of delay," he said, adding that the incident was "sensitive and unfortunate".

Khawar said that officials were working on obtaining CCTV footage so that the culprits could be identified. He said that the regional police officer and the Gujranwala commissioner were at the site of the incident, adding that the IG had ordered officials to submit a report within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said that it expected Pakistani authorities to "take the required action to investigate and ensure justice".

A report carried by Sri Lankan media organisation News 1st quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Sugeeshwara Gunaratna as saying that the Sri Lankan High Commission in Islamabad was in the process of verifying details of the incident from Pakistani authorities.

Hundreds attack factory manager

The incident took place on Wazirabad Road in Sialkot, where the workers of private factories attacked the export manager of a factory — who was a resident of the city — and burnt his body after killing him.

Videos shared on social media showed hundreds of men and young boys gathered at the site, with groups of them chanting slogans.

Most of the people surrounding the burning corpse, based on footage seen by Dawn.com, were seen recording it.

Armagan Gondal, the Sialkot police chief, told the Associated Press that the factory workers had accused the victim of desecrating posters bearing the name of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

The manager was lynched by the mob inside the factory, Gondal said, citing initial information. DPO Malik said the victim's remains were sent to a hospital for an autopsy.

Gujranwala RPO Imran Ahmar told reporters that police were carrying out an "in-depth" investigation into the incident, and that details would be shared after collecting complete evidence.

"Action will be taken as per the law against the individuals involved in the incident," he said, adding that it would be premature to comment on the motive before the investigation.

In a statement issued later in the day, Sialkot police said that officials had begun investigating the lynching.

The statement said that a case had been registered against unidentified people under sections 431 (mischief by injury to public road, bridge, river or channel), 427 (mischief causing damage amounting to Rs50), 149 (unlawful assembly of people), 147 (rioting), 297 (trespassing of burial places), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), 302 (intentional murder) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The statement said that 10 teams had been constituted under the Sialkot district police officer that would work on identifying the culprits through CCTV footage and would also conduct raids to arrest them.

Politicians, citizens condemn 'horrific' lynching

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in a tweet said he was "extremely shocked" at the "horrific Sialkot incident".

"I have instructed IG Police to thoroughly investigate it. No one is allowed to take [the] law in their hands. Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared!!" he wrote.

Buzdar earlier summoned a report from the inspector general of police and ordered a high-level inquiry into the matter.

"Every aspect of the incident should be investigated and a report should be submitted. Action should be taken against those who take the law into their own hands," the chief minister said.

Well-known cleric Maulana Tariq Jameel said that taking the law into one's own hands on the basis of a mere accusation was against the teachings of Islam.

"There is no room for violence and extremism in Islam," he said, calling on religious scholars to play a positive role in preventing extremism in the country.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari called the murder "horrific and condemnable".

"Mob violence cannot be acceptable under any circumstance as state has laws to deal with all offences. Punjab government's action must and will be firm and unambiguous," she tweeted.

PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif called the incident "utterly horrific and shocking".

"Such actions must be condemned and discouraged," he said, adding that those responsible must be held accountable. "It is time we followed our beloved Prophet's (PBUH) message of peace, compassion, love and mercy for all in true letter and spirit!"

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz asked whether this brutality was our identity as well as the future for coming generations. "There is no such thing as a government [in the country]. Who should we turn to?"

After reports and videos on social media linked the incident to the recently unbanned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the party's Sialkot wing said its workers were not involved in the incident.

In a statement, local leader Mohammad Siddiq Rizvi said that the TLP was a religious and political party that was not connected to the incident in any way.

Social media users expressed shock over the gruesomeness of the murder and called the government's attention to the deplorable law and order situation in the country.

Human rights organisations also took notice of the incident.

Amnesty International said it was "deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, allegedly due to a blasphemy accusation".

A similar incident in Sialkot in 2010 had shaken the country when a mob had lynched two brothers in the presence of police, declaring them dacoits. The incident sparked shock and horror across the country as cellphone footage of the heinous murders was uploaded to video-sharing sites.

Additional reporting by Imran Gabol.

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