Friday Dec 03, 2021
SIALKOT: A Sri Lankan national, working as a manager at a private factory on Wazirabad Road in Sialkot, was tortured to death by a mob over allegations of blasphemy on Friday — dubbed by Prime Minister Imran Khan as "a day of shame".
The manager, in charge of production at the factory, was identified as Priyantha Kumara.
District Police Officer Omar Saeed Malik said the workers of the factory beat him severely, leading to his demise.
The employees also vandalised the factory and blocked traffic, according to the police. Upon receiving a report of the incident, a heavy contingent of police reached the spot and tried to control the situation.
"After successful talks with the angry group of protesters, traffic was resumed on the road," the police official said.
President Arif Alvi appreciated the "prompt action" taken by the prime minister and the government.
"The Sialkot incident is definitely very sad and shameful, and not religious in any way whatsoever," he wrote.
Alvi said that Islam is a religion that "established cannons of deliberative justice rather than mob lynchings".
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 is 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.
The Inter-Services Public Relations issued a statement on behalf of Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa which termed the act a "cold blooded murder".
"The cold blooded murder of Sri Lankan [national], Mr Priyantha Kumara, by a mob in Sialkot is extremely condemnable and shameful," the statement said.
"Such extra judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost," it added.
The ISPR said that Gen Bajwa has extended directed the army to extend "all out support to civil administration to arrest perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice".
Sri Lankan media outlet News 1st quoted the Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokesperson, Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, as saying that the ministry expects Pakistan to take the required action and ensure justice is served.
"The Foreign Ministry has received reports of an alleged incident of torture and burning of the body of a Sri Lankan in Sialkot, Pakistan," Gunaratna was quoted as saying.
“The Sri Lanka High Commission in Islamabad is in the process of verifying the details of the incident from the Pakistan authorities,” the foreign ministry spokesperson added, according to News 1st.
The owner of the factory described Kumara as a "hardworking and honest" production manager.
He said that he had not received any complaints regarding the manager. "When I received word of the incident, Priyantha Kumara had already been lynched by the mob," he added.
The owner said the police were alerted to the outbreak of violence "at approximately 10:45am" and the first group of officers that arrived were a small bunch.
"Before additional forces arrived, Priyantha had already been killed," the owner said.
He said Kumara had joined the factory as General Manager Production in 2013.
Responding to the development, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar said he was "extremely shocked at the horrific Sialkot incident", stressing that no one is allowed to take the law into their hands.
"I have instructed IG Police to thoroughly investigate it [...] Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared!!" the chief minister said.
Punjab Police shared an update on the progress of the probe in a statement on Twitter on Friday evening.
According to the statement, "more than 100 people have been arrested", including the "prime suspect".
Raids are under way to arrest the remaining culprits, the statement added.
Earlier, Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar, in a media briefing, said that "approximately 50 people have been arrested" following the incident.
"CCTV footage is being obtained so that those who were responsible can be identified. Besides this, the RPO (regional police officer) and commissioner of Gujranwala Division are on location and personally monitoring the situation.
"The IG has directed law enforcement personnel to produce results in 48 hours after which the probe will be extended," the spokesperson said.
He said he assures everyone that "justice will not only be served but will seen to be served".
"Pakistan, in fact any civilised society, cannot allow such gruesome acts to occur. We will conduct a completely impartial inquiry," he said.
"Islam is a religion that preaches peace, security and brotherhood and forbids torture. Those responsible for this act will not be accorded any concessions and will be prosecuted under the law," Khawar said.
When questioned by a reporter over how speedy the police's response to the mob attack was, the spokesperson said that the force arrived on site at 11:46am.
"During our probe, if we find police negligence at any level, we will take action against the officers responsible immediately," he said, adding that the initial investigation over the course of the next 48 hours will determine what the police response was like and if there was a delay.
Khawar said that the incident took place "at around 11:30am" and so there was a 20 minute gap between the call on the 15 helpline and the police's arrival. "We will ascertain where the police party was at the time [...] we will immediately suspend officers if we find even a minute's delay."
Special Representative to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said the killing of the factory manager on allegations of blasphemy is "regrettable" and "condemnable". He said the Pakistan Ulema Council strongly condemns the Sri Lankan national's murder.
He said 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," he added.
Later, addressing a press conference, Ashrafi, on behalf of Pakistan and all schools of thought and people of all religions in the country, condemned the act. "In fact, 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 that Prime Minister Imran Khan, CM Punjab Usman Buzdar and Punjab Police "all have the clear stance that the culprits will not be spared".
The PM's aide said that with such an act, the elements behind it have "attempted to damage" the laws governing blasphemy.
"It is a matter of great pain and sorrow because we have established an environment of love, tolerance and peace with great difficulty in Pakistan. In the last year, not one case of blasphemy was registered in Punjab," he said.
"The 113 cases were reviewed by the Muttahida Ulema Board and people were acquitted of the charges and they are now at home," he added.
He extended his condolences to the people of Sri Lanka and the heirs of the deceased. "This act, and by using the name of Islam, has brought us great shame," he said.
Ashrafi said a joint press conference will be held tomorrow by ulema of various schools of thought and this week religious leaders will go to the Sri Lankan embassy to extend their condolences.
He said a first information report (FIR) under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act will be filed.
As news broke of the incident, international human rights NGO Amnesty International's South Asia division 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.