SIALKOT: A Sri Lankan national, working as a manager at a private factory on Wazirabad Road here, was lynched to death by a mob in the most reprehensible display of bigotry and intolerance, over allegations of religious sacrilege, on Friday. The law enforcement agencies could not be seen anywhere around the time of the entire gruesome episode.
Over 50-year-old Priyantha Diyawadana, the industrial engineering manager at a sports goods factory situated near Noul Mor, in the limits of Uggoki police station, was mercilessly thrashed at the factory premises by hordes of angry factory workers armed with rods, batons, fists and kicks while jeering religious slogans all the time.
The problem started when according to sources, the deceased foreigner, while inspecting the workers in a hall of the factory, allegedly removed some posters with religious content from a wall and put them into a dustbin, which infuriated the factory workers who attacked him. According to sources, as he fled upstairs to the roof to save his life, dozens of workers chased and got hold of him and threw him onto the ground.
Despite serious injuries, they kept battering and clobbering him until his death and later dragged his body outside the factory before setting it on fire at GT Road Chowk.
The factory owner, managers and some members of the staff tried to defuse the situation, but remained unsuccessful. The workers also vandalised the factory. A number of people among the heartless mob kept recording video clips of the burning body with their cell-phones. They also blocked the road for all types of vehicles and kept it blocked for over two-and-a-half hours. Later, the police got cleared the road by assuring the mob of registering a case against the alleged sacrilege. But at no point of time any element of the Police, district management, the provincial government or the area legislators tried to intervene to save the life, who stood by as helpless witnesses.
District Police Officer Omar Saeed Malik said the workers of the factory severely beat up the foreigner, leading to his death. Later on his body was also set on fire by the angry mob, he added. Upon receiving a report about the incident, a heavy contingent of police reached the spot and tried to control the situation, he said. “After successful talks with the angry group of protesters, traffic was restored on the road,” the police official said.
PM Imran Khan, in a statement on Twitter, termed the event a “horrific vigilante attack”, noting that the manager had been “burned alive”. “The horrific vigilante attack [at a] factory in Sialkot and the burning alive of the Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan,” he said. The premier said he was overseeing the investigations and let it be known that “all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law. Arrests are in progress,” he added.
According to a spokesperson for the Punjab police, two main accused – Farhan Idrees and Usman Rashid – have been arrested. Farhan was seen in a video clip thrashing the deceased and provoking others. In a talk with a private TV channel, he also confessed to his crime of killing the manager, along with others. The police have registered a case and arrested around 100 people involved in the incident, whose role was being determined by the CCTV footage. The IG Punjab had issued orders to the police to immediately arrest the accused with the help of CCTV cameras and video footage.
President Dr Arif Alvi said the Sialkot incident made all Pakistanis hang their heads in shame. He said it was definitely a very sad and shameful incident, and it could not be called religious in any way whatsoever. He appreciated the prompt action taken by the prime minister and the Government of Pakistan.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed ordered for all-out support to the civil administration to arrest perpetrators of killing of Sri Lankan national and bring them to justice. “Such extrajudicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost,” the COAS said.
Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Noorul Haq Qadri said each and every criminal involved in the killing would be awarded punishment. He said the incident was a conspiracy to fan communal hatred in the country.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said he was “extremely shocked at the horrific incident”, stressing that no one is allowed to take the law into their hands. “Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared!” the chief minister said. The Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar, in a media briefing, said “approximately 50 people have been arrested”.
The “CCTV [closed-circuit television] footage is being obtained so that those responsible can be identified. “The IG has directed the law-enforcement personnel to produce results in 48 hours after which the probe will be extended,” he said. When questioned by a reporter over how speedy the police’s response against the mob was, the spokesperson said that the force arrived on site in around 20 minutes, at 11:46am. However, eyewitnesses said police rushed to the spot soon after receiving information but it remained helpless in dealing with the mob. The mob was dispersed after the body was burnt completely and then Rescue-1122 shifted it to the local morgue.
Special Representative to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, said the killing of the factory manager on allegations of blasphemy is “regrettable” and “condemnable”. “Those who killed the Sri Lankan manager in Sialkot have committed an un-Islamic, inhumane act,” he added. Addressing a press conference, Ashrafi, on behalf of Pakistan and all schools of thought and people of all religions in the country, said: “I believe, those who have committed such an act have brought disrepute to Islam and to Pakistan. “Those who have acted in this manner have neither served Islam, nor Pakistan. In fact, they have opposed the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his code of conduct,” he said. Ashrafi said religious leaders would go to the Sri Lankan embassy to extend their condolences on Saturday. He said a first information report (FIR) under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act would be filed.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Kokhar of the PPP said the Sialkot incident and all its characters, including spectators, were a blot in the name of humanity. Parliamentary leader of the PPP in Senate Sherry Rehman said weaponising the religion leads to mob rule. “Justice lies at the heart of legitimacy and must be done by the state,” she tweeted. Khursheed Shah strongly condemned the murder and said Islam teaches love, peace and brotherhood.
The international human rights NGO Amnesty International’s South Asia division also issued a statement saying it is “deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing” of the Sri Lankan over a blasphemy accusation. It demanded that authorities 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,” the NGO said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement: “The unthinkable savagery with which a mob tortured a Sri Lankan man to death and burned his body on flimsy allegations of blasphemy should bring home once and for all the grim reality of spiralling radicalisation in Pakistan. “Regrettably, the state’s response has been cowardly at best and complicit at worst. We demand an immediate, transparent inquiry into the incident.”
Also, Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) strongly condemned the lynching incident at a Sialkot factory and demanded transparent and impartial inquiry into it. A spokesman termed it unfortunate that the incident had been attributed to the TLP. He demanded that background of the conspiracy should be investigated transparently and impartially, keeping in view all aspects and the culprits involved should be arrested and brought to light.
The Ulema and Mashaykh of all religious schools of thought, Pakistan Ulema Council and Interfaith Harmony Council have also strongly condemned the killing of the Sri Lankan national in Sialkot.