Mob kills Sri Lankan over alleged blasphemy in Pakistan

A mob has descended on a sports equipment factory in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, killing a Sri Lankan man and burning his body publicly over allegations of blasphemy, police said.

Armagan Gondal, a police chief in the district of Sialkot, said Muslim factory workers had accused the victim of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Police said initial information shows Priyantha Kumara was lynched inside the factory.

Videos on social media showed the mob dragging the man’s heavily bruised body outside, where they burned it, surrounded by hundreds who cheered on the killers.

Senior police officer Omar Saeed Malik said police are still trying to determine what prompted the mob to attack Mr Kumara, whose body was sent to hospital for a post-mortem. A thorough investigation is under way, he said.

In Colombo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sugeeswara Gunaratne said the Sri Lankan embassy in Islamabad is verifying details of the incident with Pakistani authorities.

“Sri Lanka expects that the Pakistan authorities will take required action to investigate and ensure justice,” he said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that the “horrific vigilante attack on factory & the burning alive of Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan”.

He promised a thorough investigation and said those responsible will be severely punished.

Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa denounced the killing, saying the “cold-blooded murder” was “extremely condemnable and shameful”, and adding: “Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost.”

According to police, more than 100 suspects were arrested over involvement in the attack, which was widely condemned by many Pakistanis.

In the videos, some in the mob are heard chanting a popular slogan of a radical Islamist party, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan, which last month held a violent rally over the publications of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France.

The party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the blasphemy law.

Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy are common in this Islamic nation, although such attacks on foreign nationals are rare.

Charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty under Pakistani law. International and Pakistani rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.

Punjab’s chief minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that he had ordered an investigation into the attack.

Mr Khan’s special adviser on religious affairs, Tahir Ashrafi, condemned the killing and promised stern punishment for those involved.