Anti-terrorism court to commence trial of all suspects at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail from Saturday
A Gujranwala Anti-Terrorism Court on Thursday indicted 89 suspects for the murder of Priyantha Kumara, three months after the Sri Lankan national was lynched by an enraged mob in Sialkot over blasphemy allegations.
Kumara, employed as a manager at Sialkot’s RajCo Industries Factory, was lynched over blasphemy allegations on Dec. 3, 2021. Following his murder, the mob desecrated his body and set it on fire. Eyewitness accounts have noted that several of the participants filmed the tragedy on their mobile phones, with “prime suspects” Farhan Idrees and Usman Rasheed brazenly admitting to media that they had targeted the victim because he had “ripped a sticker” with religious text off the factory wall.
According to the challan submitted by police, a copy of which is available with Newsweek, the investigation into the case has been completed. It said that the investigation officer had “thoroughly” inspected the crime scene and collected all relevant evidence, including eyewitness statements.
During the inquiry, reads the challan, footage from 10 CCTV cameras installed at the factory was collected and sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) for analysis. Similarly, it says, video footage from eyewitnesses was downloaded from social media and the mobile phones of the detained suspects, and subsequently forwarded to the PFSA to trace all culprits and ensure that the videos were genuine and had not been manipulated in any way.
Overall, the investigator recovered 56 mobile phones from suspects; 9 from nearby shopkeepers; and 4 from eyewitnesses. The challan says all devices were submitted to the PFSA for analysis, adding that the voice samples of 4 accused, who could be heard raising slogans calling for Kumara’s murder, had been sent to the Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency for voice comparison.
The investigation officer, according to the challan, also collected DNA samples from Kumara’s brother to forensically confirm the victim’s identity.
The challan contends that seven of the accused have already confessed to the crime before a magistrate and been sent to judicial lock-up, while the remaining 89 have been pending indictment since Feb. 14.
Sialkot District Police Officer Hasan Iqbal told Newsweek that the police had availed the maximum time of 90 days to conduct their investigation to ensure all culprits could be identified and prosecuted. “The culprits of the incident were arrested in three stages. Though we had already submitted the interim challan, the detailed investigation took a lot of time, as we did not want to leave any lacunas which could give benefit of doubt to the accused,” he said.
“The investigation was conducted on the basis of direct evidence, CCTV footages and the videos which eyewitnesses provided. The cell phone videos were sent for forensic analysis to ensure they had not been tampered. We used all forensic evidence on the basis of modern and conventional means,” he added.
Last year, police had registered a case against over 900 suspects involved in the heinous incident under Sections 7 (punishment for acts of terrorism) and 11-WW (punishment for lynching) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; and Sections 149 (establishing guilt for all members of unlawful assembly), 147 (punishing for rioting), 431 (mischief through hurdles to public roads), 427 (mischief causing damage), 201 (disappearing evidence), 297 (offering indignity to human corpse), and 302 (murder).
Advocate Rauf Wattoo, deputy prosecutor general of Anti-Terrorism Courts in Lahore, told Newsweek that the nature of the crime required an intensive investigation to separate the culprits from the spectators. “It was a lengthy investigation process which included compilation of DNA evidence, forensic evidence and video evidence of 89 accused, as the investigation was conducted on both modern and conventional lines,” he said.
“Under the Criminal Service Act, the prosecution committee issued a line of inquiry to the police and we are satisfied with the investigation conducted and shared by the police so far,” he added.
Earlier this week, Punjab Prosecution Secretary Nadeem Sarwar constituted a new prosecution committee to ensure “high quality prosecution” for the trial of the suspects involved in Kumara’s lynching. The committee—comprising Wattoo, Director Appeals Asmatullah Khan, Deputy Prosecutor General Zahid Sarfraz Khan and Assistant District Public Prosecutor Umer Farooq—has been directed to submit a report to the secretary prosecution and the Punjab prosecutor general after each hearing of the case.
The trial for the 89 suspects would commence tomorrow (Saturday) at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail, where the case was transferred from Sialkot due to the sensitivity of the incident.
Kumara’s brutal killing has elicited widespread condemnations from government officials and human rights bodies. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in December, announced he was personally overseeing the investigations and vowed to ensure “all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law.” The Chief of Army Staff, likewise, described the murder as “extremely condemnable and shameful,” and stressed that such “extrajudicial vigilantism” could never be condoned.
Special Representative to the P.M. on Interfaith Harmony Tahir Ashrafi has also emphasized that Islam does not allow for incidents such as the mob lynching of Kumara. However, he has rubbished calls for reforms of the blasphemy laws, claiming the controversial legislation actually “protects” people accused of blasphemy and reduces the possibility of them being extra-judicially murdered.