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LAHORE: A mob of people described as “employees” of a garment factory in Sialkot tortured and killed their Sri Lankan manager on Friday in factory premises and set his body on fire over blasphemy accusation.

Video footages that went viral on social media showed that the mob first brutally beat up the foreign national, identified as Priyantha Kumara, inside the factory and then dragged his corpse on the road and set it on fire.

However, the recently de-proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has disassociated itself from the incident wherein the Sri Lankan national lynched to death.

Talking to media, two men – Muhammad Talha and Muhammad Farhan - who introduced themselves as colleagues of Priyantha alleged that the factory workers became annoyed when the victim (operations manager) came to the factory and tore off a poster inscribed with holy verses and dumped it into a dustbin.

He further claimed that he along with other employees approached the foreman and informed him about the incident and Priyantha fled from the scene while talking on his cellphone. Meanwhile, he said, the factory worked surrounded and punished him for his “blasphemous” act.

It may be mentioned here that the people were seen mercilessly kicking the burning body of the victim and police officials present on the spot preferred to stay away. The Rescue 1122 staff later shifted the charred body to hospital for autopsy.

PM Imran condemns 'horrific' killing of Sri Lankan manager in Sialkot

Gujranwala RPO Imran Ahmar said that police were carrying out an “in-depth” investigation into the incident and that details would be shared after collecting complete evidence. “Action will be taken as per the law against the individuals involved in the incident,” he said, adding it would be premature to comment on the motive before the investigation.

In a statement issued later in the day, the Sialkot police said that officials had begun investigating the lynching. The statement said that 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.

The statement said that 10 teams had been constituted under the Sialkot district police officer that would work on identifying the culprits through CCTV footage and would also conduct raids to arrest them.

Addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi and Punjab IGP Rao Sardar Ali Khan hours after the incident, Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar strongly condemned the lynching and said that over 50 people had been arrested.

According to Khawar, police were working on the case with full dedication and help from the CCTV footages will also be taken to identify the actual culprits behind the gruesome crime. He said that a deadline of 48 hours had been set for completing inquiry into the case and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar would personally oversee the investigation.

He said police 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 said, adding the incident was “sensitive and unfortunate”.

SAPM Tahir Ashrafi while condemning the incident on “behalf of all Ulema” said that it had “defaced Islam”. He said the country had laws when it comes to Namoos-i-Risalat (the sanctity of the Prophet PBUH). He said that those responsible for the incident had not served the country or Islam and had gone against the religion.

“The elements involved in the incident have tried to damage Islamic laws and teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” he said, adding the culprits would be punished for the “barbarism”. He said Ulema of all schools of thought would jointly hold a press conference today (Saturday) to highlight the teachings of Islam, particularly those related to blasphemy laws. Ashrafi also announced that a delegation of the Ulema would visit the Sri Lankan Embassy in Pakistan next week to offer condolences.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said it expected Pakistani authorities to “take the required action to investigate and ensure justice”. A report carried by the Sri Lankan media organisation News 1st quoted the 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.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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