Over 800 people have been booked under terrorism charges while 13 prime suspects are among 118 arrested so far in the horrific lynching of a Sri Lankan national over allegations of blasphemy in Punjab province of Pakistan, a top police official said on Saturday, as pressure mounted on the government to bring the guilty to justice.
In a shocking incident on Friday, angry supporters of the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) attacked a garment factory and lynched its general manager Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana before setting his body on fire over allegations of blasphemy.
Diyawadana, who was in his 40s and was from Sri Lanka’s Kandy city, was working as the general manager in the Rajko industries (dealing in garments sportswear) in Sialkot district, some 100 kilometres from Lahore, for the last seven years or so. Sri Lankan Parliament and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Saturday condemned the lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Pakistan and hoped that Prime Minister Imran Khan will keep his commitment to bring all those involved to justice and ensure the safety of the rest of the island nation’s expat workers.
A preliminary report of the incident was shared with the media by Inspector General of Police (Punjab) Rao Sardar Ali Khan and the Punjab government spokesperson Hasaan Khawar here on Saturday. Police have arrested 118 suspects so far, including 13 prime suspects for their involvement in the lynching of the Sri Lankan national, Khan said, adding that an FIR has been registered against 800 people under terrorism charges.
A mob of over 800 men gathered at the factory at 10 am Friday on reports that Kumara had torn a sticker/poster (inscribed with Islamic verses) and committed blasphemy. They looked out for him and found him (from the rooftop). They dragged him, beat him severely and by 11.28 am he was dead and the body was set on fire by the violent mob, he said. The mob after burning the body of the Sri Lankan national had blocked the Wazirabad road. Police from different stations reached there to control the situation, he said.
Replying to a question, he said, the police were informed about the incident after Diyawadana’s body was set ablaze by the mob. We have 160 footage of the incident from different angles that will help determine the role of the culprits, he said, adding that those who brought stones have also been arrested and more arrests are underway.
When asked about the role of the TLP in the incident, the IGP parried the question. He said the family of the victim was in Sri Lanka.
We are conducting the investigation on professional grounds and no culprit will be spared, Khawar said. The incident sparked widespread condemnation from all walks of life. Police were also chided for reaching the crime scene after the incident. Only a couple of policemen can be seen in one video asking the people to stay back while the body was burning.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a tweet: The horrific vigilante attack on factory in Sialkot & the burning alive of 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. Mob killings over allegations of blasphemy have been very common in Pakistan, where the crime can carry the death sentence.
In April 2017, an angry mob lynched university student Mashal Khan when he was accused of posting blasphemous content online. A Christian couple was lynched and then set ablaze in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being accused of desecrating the Quran.