Priyantha Diyawadana, who worked as a general manager at an industrial engineering company in Punjab province’s Sialkot city, about 200km from capital Islamabad, was attacked and set on fire by workers of his own factory on Friday, the city police said.
Several horrific videos on social media showed a mob of hundreds surrounding Diyawadana and torturing him while chanting slogans against blasphemy. In some videos, his body can be seen burning on the road as the crowd filmed the incident.
The factory workers gathered based on unconfirmed information that Diyawadana, who had been living in Sialkot for seven years, took off some posters containing words from the Quran, the holy book of Muslims, from a wall at the factory. This was considered an act of blasphemy by them.
As word spread, local residents also joined the workers, chanting slogans, and forcefully entered the factory to surround the Sri Lankan citizen.
The attackers, dozens in numbers, outnumbered Diyawadana and tortured him. Several Pakistani media reports claimed the police were contacted several times but they didn’t reach in time.
The police now say they have taken several people under custody and are examining CCTV footage to find more attackers. By Friday night, the Punjab police had arrested over 100 people for their alleged involvement in the lynching under terrorism and other charges.
“We are probing the facts and also looking at the police response, whether there was any sort of delay,” Inspector General Police (Punjab) Rao Sardar Ali Khan said, according to Dawn. He added that the incident was “sensitive and unfortunate”.
Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote in a tweet on Friday that the culprits will be severely punished, and called it “a day of shame for Pakistan”.
“Let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law,” he said.
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
A senior Pakistan official told AFP that Islamabad had been in touch with Sri Lankan diplomats over the incident “and have assured them that all those involved in the heinous crime will be brought to justice”.
Pakistan, an Islamic country, has stringent laws against blasphemy, including a death penalty. Cases of mob violence against those who have allegedly blasphemed are reported time and again, where the targets are usually people of other religious faiths.
Many rights groups have also demanded that the Pakistani government act against extremists.
“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment that enables abuse and puts lives at risk must be rectified,” Amnesty International said on Friday.