LAHORE, Dec 3: 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 kms from here, a Punjab police official said.
“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.
Sialkot District Police Officer Umar Saeed Malik told reporters that a heavy contingent of police has been deployed in the area to control the situation after the lynching of the Sri Lankan national.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar termed it a very tragic incident and ordered the Inspector General of Police to investigate the matter and report him within 24 hours.
“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 in a statement.
The situation in the area is tense while all factories are shut, the police added.
Meanwhile, Punjab Government spokesperson Hassan Khawar said that “approximately 50 people have been arrested,” Geo News reported.
“CCTV footage is being obtained so that those who were responsible can be identified. The IG has directed law enforcement personnel to produce results in 48 hours after which the probe will be extended,” the spokesperson said.
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)