On Friday, December 3, a violent mob attacked, killed, and burned the body of Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan working as a manager in Pakistan. Police said Kumara was accused of committing blasphemous acts against the Prophet Muhammad. The incident happened in the Sialkot district in Punjab, Pakistan.
Armagan Gondal, chief of Sialkot Police District, told the Associated Press (AP) that Kumara was accused of “desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.” Kumara was preparing the facility for a visit by a foreign delegation. He asked workers to remove all the unnecessary stickers from factory machines.
Anwar Ghumman, a senior police officer, further explained that Kumara tore posters of Quranic verses distributed by a conservative hardline group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).
The TLP is considered a radical Islamist party whose recently lifted ban by the Pakistani government after causing violent protests in October. Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of TLP’s founder, was charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 and was arrested earlier this year.
According to Ghumman, a couple of factory workers saw Kumara tear a poster of the Islamist party that was pasted on the wall, then threw it in the dustbin. The witnesses started spreading the news about what Kumara did, prompting mobs to gather outside the factory.
Kumara was a general manager of a sports equipment factory in northeast Punjab, one of the highly industrialized regions of Pakistan. Sialkot police said Kumala was attacked inside the factory in Wazirabad Road.
According to The Dawn, the mob dragged Kumara outside then “burnt his body after killing him.” A video obtained by The Dawn showed hundreds of protesters surrounding Kumara’s lifeless body. Some of them were clapping as his body started catching fire.
Sugeeswara Gunaratne, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, said they are working with their counterparts in Islamabad to verify the details of the incident. “Sri Lanka expects that the Pakistan authorities will take the required action to investigate and ensure justice,” Gunaratne said.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, condemned the incident calling it a “horrific vigilante attack.” In a Twitter post, Khan announced that he would personally oversee the investigations and vowed that “all those responsible will be punished with the full severity of the law.”
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
In a Twitter post, Amnesty International, a humanitarian watchdog, expressed that they are “deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing.” “Authorities must immediately conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable,” Amnesty added.
PAKISTAN: Amnesty International is deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, allegedly due to a blasphemy accusation. (Thread)
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) December 3, 2021
As of the writing of this article, Kumara’s remains have been repatriated to Sri Lanka. Multiple arrests have also been made, while additional arrests may happen as Pakistan’s government continues to investigate.
Writer’s Note: Al-Jazeera uses “textile factory” while the Associated Press uses “sports equipment factory.”