Police have initiated a probe into the murder of victim Priyantha Diyawadana, who was the manager of a Rajco Industries factory
An enraged mob in Sialkot on Friday tortured a man to death and then burned his body at a major thoroughfare, with local police saying they will share further details of the case with media after the conclusion of investigations.
According to videos and pictures shared on social media, hundreds of men gathered around the burning corpse on Wazirabad Road. Several among the mob can be heard yelling slogans of the rightwing Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, suggesting they believed the victim had been “punished” for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet. Local police were deployed to the scene as the crowds swelled, with a spokesman saying they had managed to disperse the mob after three hours of negotiations and brought the situation under control.
Sialkot District Police Officer Umar Saeed Malik told media the victim had been identified as Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national who served as the manager of a Rajco Industries factory. Speaking to local media at the scene of the crime, two individuals purportedly employed by the factory claimed that Diyawadana had ripped a sticker containing religious text off a wall, angering local workers who initially complained about him before forming a mob to “punish” him. The mob, they claimed, had tortured the victim to death and then set his body on fire.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has taken notice of the murder, describing it as a “very tragic incident” in a brief statement. He said a report had been summoned from the inspector general of police and a high-level inquiry ordered to determine the reasons behind the lynching. “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,” he added.
Special Assistant to the P.M. on Religious Harmony Tahir Ashrafi, in a posting on Twitter, condemned the incident. Headlined “The Pakistan Ulema Council strongly condemns the murder of a Sri Lankan manager in Sialkot”, his statement read: “The murder of a foreign manager over allegations of blasphemy is sorrowful and condemnable.” It called on police to arrest the culprits and ensure the case proceeds toward its logical conclusion. “There are already laws against blasphemy [in Pakistan]. The people who attacked the Sri Lankan manager committed contempt of these laws,” the statement continued.
“The behavior of the murderers of the Sri Lankan manager is un-Islamic and anti-humanity,” it added.
In a subsequent press conference, where he was flanked by Special Assistant to the Punjab C.M. on Information Hassan Khawar and Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan, Ashrafi reiterated that “all ulema” had condemned the lynching, adding that the incident had “defaced” Islam.
Offering his condolences to the victim’s family, Ashrafi said that the country’s religious scholars would soon hold a joint press conference to condemn the issue. “We will also go to the Sri Lankan embassy for condolences,” he added.
50 people arrested
The special assistant emphasized that Pakistan already had laws against blasphemy, and slammed the perpetrators of the incident for “going against” Islam. “The elements involved in this incident have damaged Islamic laws and teachings,” he said and vowed that the culprits would be punished for their “barbarism.”
Ashrafi said that thus far police had arrested 50 people, while officials were striving to identify additional members of the lynch mob through CCTV footage. He said that an FIR would be registered against the accused under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
To a question, Khawar said that police did not want to use videos circulating on social media, as they were of relatively short duration and the CCTV footage would provide more information. He also clarified that authorities would take action against police officials if it were discovered that there had been any negligence on their part to respond to the incident in a timely manner. The officials said police would submit the results of their investigation within 48 hours.
This is not the first incident of mob lynching in Sialkot. In 2010, brothers Mughees and Muneeb Butt of Sialkot were lynched by an angry mob over alleged dacoity. Videos of the lynching went viral on social media, showing that police had stood by as the mob brutally murdered the pair. Seven death sentences were announced in the case, but the Supreme Court reduced the sentences to 10 years’ imprisonment during appeals.
Another incident of attempted lynching occurred last week in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda district. An angry mob set fire to a police station after cops refused to hand over a man allegedly accused of desecrating the Quran. Police had described the man as “mentally unstable” and had shifted him to an unidentified location.