The nation was shell-shocked and disgusted on Friday when a Sri Lankan national was brutally lynched and his body was set on fire by a mob in Sialkot. The sickening incident outraged the nation as the civil and military leaders denounced it as “horrific” “shameful” and “extra-judicial vigilantism”.
President Arif Alvi said the vigilante attack has nothing to do with religion as Prime Minister Imran Khan promised that those responsible “will be punished with the full severity of the law”.
The gut-wrenching incident took place on Sialkot’s Wazirabad Road, where workers of private factories brutally lynched the Sri Lankan national, Priyantha Kumara.
A police official told The Express Tribune at the crime scene that Kumara was the operational manager at the factory for the past seven years. He was accused by the factory workers of “tearing down Durood Sharif”.
Rumours then started circulating across the factory area and a mob started gathering in the morning, he said, adding that police were informed about it much later, at around 12:15 pm.
Several gruesome video clips shared on social media showed a mob beating the victim while chanting slogans against blasphemy. Other clips showed his body set ablaze, as well as the overturned wreckage of what was said to be his car.
Many in the mob made no attempt to hide their identity and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse. The police claimed that the grisly incident took place inside the factory premises and there was no way of knowing about it before that time.
When the police arrived at the scene, the victim had already been tortured to death and his body was being set to fire. “The police did try to stop the mob from setting the body on fire, but the rioters' strength was overwhelming,” the official added.
The police official further said that video footage from inside the factory, where the torture took place, had been seized to identify the culprits. “Some people have been arrested,” the official added.
Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that the "horrific, vigilante attack" on the factory and the burning alive of the Sri Lankan man was “a day of shame for Pakistan".
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 & let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law. Arrests are in progress— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) December 3, 2021
“I am overseeing the investigations and, let there be no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with the full severity of the law. Arrests are in progress,” he added.
Responding to premier’s tweet on the issue, President Dr Arif Alvi also said the Sialkot incident was “definitely very sad and shameful and not religious in any way whatsoever”. “Islam is a religion established on the cannons of deliberative justice rather than mob lynching.”
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that he was “extremely shocked at the horrific Sialkot incident”.
I am extremely shocked at the horrific Sialkot incident. I have instructed IG Police to thoroughly investigate it. No one is allowed to take law in their hands. Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared!!— Usman Buzdar (@UsmanAKBuzdar) December 3, 2021
“I have instructed the IG Police to thoroughly investigate it. No one is allowed to take law in their hands,” he added. “Rest assured, individuals involved in this inhumane act will not be spared!!”
The military’s media wing issued a statement, saying that the "cold-blooded murder" by the mob in Sialkot was "condemnable and shameful". "Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost," the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) added.
The statement added that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had directed for all-out support to the civil administration to arrest the perpetrators of this "heinous crime" and bring them to justice.
Addressing a news conference, Special Representative for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi condemned the lynching on “behalf of all Ulema” and said that it had “defaced Islam”.
He was speaking to the media accompanied by Punjab IG Rao Sardar Ali Khan and Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister on Information Hassan Khawar.
“The elements involved in the incident have tried to damage Islamic laws and teachings,” Ashrafi said. “The culprits will be punished for the barbarism.”
The cleric added that that the country had laws when it came to Namoos-e-Risalat -- the sanctity of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) -- and those involved in the incident had neither served the country, nor Islam.
Ashrafi offered his condolences to the victim's family and said the country's religious scholars would hold a joint news conference later. “We will also go to the Sri Lankan Embassy for condolences.”
Later in the day, the Punjab police said that 100 people, including one of the main culprits had been arrested, adding that the Punjab IG was overseeing the matter.
Speaking on the occasion, the Punjab IG said police had first received information of the incident at 11:26am and officials reached the scene at 11:46am. “We are probing the facts and also looking at the police response, whether there was any sort of delay,” he added.
Khawar said officials were working on obtaining CCTV footage so that the culprits could be identified.
He added that the regional police officer and the Gujranwala commissioner were at the site of the incident. “The IG has ordered officials to submit a report within 48 hours.”
Separately, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said it expected Pakistani authorities to “take the required action to investigate and ensure justice”.
A report by a Sri Lankan media organisation quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Sugeeshwara Gunaratna as saying that the Sri Lankan High Commission in Islamabad was in the process of verifying details of the incident from Pakistani authorities.
The recently unbanned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Sialkot wing said its activists were not involved in the incident.
In a statement, its leader Mohammad Siddiq Rizvi said the TLP was a religious and political party and not connected to the incident in any way.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Supreme Court lawyer Saiful Mulook said the police and civil administration should be tried under Section 302 for their gross negligence in the matter, as he called them "co-murderers". "Whoever [in the police and the civil admin] didn't seek high-level intervention facilitated the murder," he added.
According to the lawyer, who fought Aasia Bibi's case in the Supreme Court, it reportedly took the mob a few hours to gather outside the factory and the civil administration should have known that it could not stop the mob from the entering factory.
"As soon as the situation started getting serious, the civil administration should have requested the government to use Article 245 to call in the army or the paramilitary force,” he said, adding that the civil administration did not have the capacity to deal with such blasphemy-related mobs.
The lawyer said that as per an earlier SC ruling, nobody could take the law into their hands, not even in blasphemy cases.
According to a statement issued by the Sialkot police, a case had been registered against unidentified people under sections 431 (mischief by injury to public road, bridge, river or channel), 427 (mischief causing damage amounting to Rs50), 149 (unlawful assembly of people), 147 (rioting), 297 (trespassing of burial places), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), 302 (intentional murder) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
(With input from agencies)
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