COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Saturday he was deeply saddened by the brutal assassination of a citizen in Pakistan on blasphemy allegation, but praised the administration in Islamabad for taking steps to ensure justice.
Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, who worked at a factory in Pakistan’s eastern city of Sialkot, was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob on Friday, in an incident that Prime Minister Imran Khan described as a “day of shame” for Pakistan.
Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokesperson Sugeeshwara Gunaratne told Arab News the victim was in his late forties and survived by his wife and two children below 10 years of age.
The Pakistani prime minister said in a Twitter post he had spoken to the Sri Lankan president “to convey our nation’s anger & shame” over Diyawadana’s killing in Sialkot city, adding that over a hundred people had been arrested in the case and would be prosecuted.
“As an ardent friend of Pakistan, Sri Lanka commends the actions taken by the Government of Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to ensure justice, immediately after this brutal assassination,” the Sri Lankan president said. “The Sri Lankan Government and the people of Sri Lanka look forward with great confidence on the future steps that will be taken by the Government of Pakistan in this regard.”
“I also urge the Government of Pakistan to ensure the safety of all other Sri Lankans living in Pakistan,” he said.
Armagan Gondal, a police chief in Sialkot district where the killing occurred in Pakistan’s Punjab province, told media factory workers had accused the victim of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said it was “shocking” to see the brutal and fatal attack on Diyawadana by extremist mobs in Pakistan.
“My heart goes out to his wife and family,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sri Lanka and her people are confident that PM Imran Khan will keep to his commitment to bring all those involved to justice.”
The Sri Lankan foreign ministry said it was in the process of verifying the incident with Pakistani authorities, adding that it expected Islamabad to take “required action” to investigate the matter and ensure justice.
“The Sri Lanka High Commission in Islamabad is in the process of verifying the details of the incident from the Pakistan authorities,” it said in a tweet.
“Sri Lanka expects that the #Pakistan authorities will take required action to investigate and ensure justice. We are awaiting results of further #investigations and working with all parties concerned to bring the remains home.”
Sri Lanka’s Muslim Civil Society Alliance also expressed shock and dismay over the lynching of a national in Pakistan, calling it a “barbaric crime.”
“This is an extremely shameful and barbaric crime and should not be tolerated,” it said in a statement. “Extrajudicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost by anyone, no matter which religion, ethnicity or nationality they belong to.”
In his message on Twitter, Pakistan’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said he had been thinking what to write on the Sialkot lynching since words had lost their value after such incidents.
“Such incidents only pain us for 48 hours and then everything returns to normal and conscience remains buried until the next such incident occurs,” he wrote on the social media platform.
“This apathy is an indication of a bigger storm,” Hussain continued. “Rivers of blood have flown before us in countries [around the world].”
Few issues are as galvanizing in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of an insult to Islam can supercharge protests and incite lynching.
Video footage of the incident in Sialkot shared on electronic and social media showed hundreds of people gathered outside the factory, amid plumes of smoke rising from a spot in the center of the crowd where the perpetrators had reportedly burnt the body of the victim after beating him to death.
Other videos showed a mob dragging a man’s heavily bruised body out to the street, where they burned it in the presence of hundreds of demonstrators who cheered on the killers.
Many in the mob made no attempt to hide their identity and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
The slogans chanted in the social media videos were the same used by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a religious political party that has railed against blasphemy on its rise to prominence.
The TLP has in the past paralyzed the country with protests, including an anti-France campaign after Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The group was only unbanned last month and its leader freed from detention after another period of civil unrest in which seven police officers were killed.
Friday’s attack came less than a week after a Muslim mob burned a police station and four police posts in northwest Pakistan after officers refused to hand over a man accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an. No officers were hurt in the attacks in Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.