Pakistan: Mob beats to death Sri Lankan manager accused of insulting Islam

Factory workers then set victim’s body aflame.

A plume of smoke is seen after the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020 (photo credit: TWITTER/SHAHABNAFEES VIA REUTERS)
A plume of smoke is seen after the crash of a PIA aircraft in Karachi, Pakistan May 22, 2020

[Islamabad] The expatriate manager of a Pakistani sports equipment factory was brutally murdered by an angry mob on Friday after being accused of blasphemy.

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The attack took place in Sialkot city, which is located in northeast Punjab Province, one of Pakistan’s most industrialized areas.

Priyantha Diyawadana Kumara, 50, a Sri Lankan Christian, worked at the Rajco Industries factory, which made uniforms for the Pakistan national cricket team. He was the general manager there for the last 11 years.

The enraged workers jeered as they attacked him with rods, batons, fists and kicks and shouted religious slogans.

Armughan Gondal, a senior police official, told The Media Line, “Kumara was killed for allegedly desecrating a sticker that contained the Holy Prophet’s name.”

 Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) run amid the smoke of tear gas during a protest demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, in Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHSIN RAZA/FILE PHOTO)
Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) run amid the smoke of tear gas during a protest demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, in Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHSIN RAZA/FILE PHOTO)

District Police Officer Omar Saeed Malik confirmed to The Media Line, “The incident took place on Wazirabad Road in Sialkot city where the manager of a factory was beaten to death.”

“Angry workers also ruined the factory and blocked traffic in protest,” Malik said. “Strict action will be taken as per the existing law against the lawbreakers involved in the sad and intolerable incident.”

Malik further declined to provide details and said that it would be premature to comment on motive while the investigation was underway. 

An eyewitness told The Media Line on condition of anonymity that “four workers risked their lives [in an effort] to save Kumara; they stood up firmly to the irritated mob and tried to convince the crowd but they were not heard and regrettably their efforts failed.

“If more help had been provided, Kumara’s life could have been saved,” he said.

“Before he breathed his last, the general manager was severely tortured,” the eyewitness added.

Another police official told The Media Line off the record, “Kumara was killed inside the factory. Later he was dragged to the road where his severely battered body was burnt in the presence of hundreds of protesters who were praising the killers.

“Unfortunately, when we [police] reached the scene, the mob was out of control and Kumara’s body was on fire,” the official continued.

Punjab police said “that more than 100 people including two main culprits have been arrested,” adding that Inspector General of Punjab Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan was overseeing the investigation.

A case has been registered against all of them and they will be put on trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as other statutes.

On Saturday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa extended condolences to the grieving family. “Sri Lanka and its people are confident that [Pakistani] PM Imran Khan will keep to his commitment to bring all those involved to justice,” he tweeted.

Khan strongly condemned the incident and tweeted, “The horrific vigilante attack on factory in Sialkot & the burning alive of Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan.”

“I am overseeing the investigations and let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law,” he added.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Khan also spoke with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and conveyed the Pakistani nation’s anger and shame to the people of the island country.

Khan assured President Rajapaksa, “The culprits will be prosecuted with the full strictness of the law,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.

Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a prominent religious scholar and Khan’s special representative for religious affairs and interfaith harmony, strongly condemned the execution of the Sri Lanka national and told The Media Line “the incident has spoiled Islamic values.

“As a Muslim, I feel ashamed,” he said. 

“Pakistan has strict blasphemy laws, but no one is allowed to take the law into his hands,” Ashrafi added. “The Pakistani nation needs to understand that they should let the state do its job. People should stop the practice of being accusers and arbitrators on their own.”

The Pakistan Penal Code punishes blasphemy against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death.

Attorney Sedan Khan, a Rawalpindi-based law practitioner before the Federal Sharia Court, Islamabad, told The Media Line, “As per the state’s law, the penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is death. However, the state’s constitution also prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism.

“Any citizen irrespective of religion, who insults any holy personality of another religion, shall be dealt with by the same laws,” Sedan Khan said.

Friday’s brutal killing drew widespread condemnation from government officials and religious scholars.

Usman Buzdar, Punjab chief minister, said in a tweet “he was extremely shocked at the horrific Sialkot incident.”

“No one is allowed to take the law into their hands. Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared,” Buzdar said.

Dr. Shireen Mazari, federal minister for human rights, tweeted, “Mob violence cannot be accepted under any circumstance as the state has laws to deal with all offenses.”

On the day of his murder, Kumara asked the workers to clean all the machines and maintain discipline ahead of a visit by a foreign delegation. Also on Friday, some workers were fired including for absenteeism.

Workers were reportedly already dissatisfied with the Sri Lankan manager’s strict attitude and discipline, leading to accusations of blasphemy.

The false rumor spread like wildfire among other factory workers, resulting in the killing of an innocent man.

Sources confirm that 123 people, including 13 key suspects, have been arrested. Two key accused have confessed to involvement in the slaying.

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of the army staff, ordered all-out support to the civil administration to arrest the perpetrators of this “heinous crime” and bring them to justice.

The Armed Forces Media Wing issued a statement saying the “cold-blooded murder by the mob was condemnable and shameful. Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost.”

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Lahore-based Centre for Social Justice and chairperson of the Peoples’ Commission for Minorities Rights, told The Media Line that since 1990, “at least 78 persons have been killed extrajudicially as of Dec. 4, 2021, after allegations related to blasphemy and apostasy, 42 of whom were Muslims, 23 Christians, nine Ahmadis, two Hindus and two persons whose religious identity could not be ascertained.”

“Whenever we talked about the loopholes in the law, the ministers said that it is all propaganda of Western-backed NGOs,” he said.

“If the law had been firm and accurate, the Sialkot incident would never have happened, nor would Pakistan be a disgrace to the entire world,” Jacob said.

Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri, a world-famous Islamic scholar, said in a tweet, “The heartbreaking incident of Sialkot has damaged the peaceful image of Islam and Pakistan's identity.

“There is no place for such barbarity and lawlessness in Islam. This is the right time for the state to play a decisive role to counter fanaticism in Pakistan,” Qadri said.

Maulana Tariq Jameel, a Lahore-based prominent Islamic scholar and preacher, told The Media Line, “The burning alive of a human being in Sialkot is against Islamic teachings [forbidding one] to take the law into one’s own hands on the basis of a mere accusation.

“Scholars should play a positive role in preventing extremism,” Jameel emphasized.

Saira Javed Sheikh, a Rawalpindi-based human rights advocate, told The Media Line, “Islam recognizes no distinction among human beings based on color, language or tribe.

“All are considered equal in receiving human rights. According to Islam’s teaching, no privileged or chosen class exists except those having piety or moral excellence,” she said.

“The Pakistani public at large is criticizing this act of inhumanity. It is a politically driven radical mindset which has a deeply rooted intolerant background and is still acceptable in our conservative society due to various factors, mainly due to lack of knowledge of Islam,” she said.

A makeshift camp was set up outside the Secretariat of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, to pay tribute to Kumara. A large number of businessmen, ordinary citizens and members of civil society organizations laid flowers and paid their respects.

Mian Imran Akbar, president of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, told The Media Line, “December 3 was the darkest day in the city’s history.”

“Priyantha was a highly professional production manager who did not compromise on his work and quality. His ability was beyond any doubt,” he said. “He served Pakistan and contributed the best part of his professional life to promote Pakistan’s sports industry, but unfortunately he was lynched.”