A mob in Pakistan tortured, killed and then set on fire a Sri Lankan man who was accused of ‘blasphemy’ for allegedly taking down and tearing a poster that contained salutations (“Durood”) on the prophet of Islam.
Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national who worked as general manager, industrial engineering of a factory of Rajco Industries in Sialkot, Punjab, was set upon by a violent crowd on Friday, the day of the weekly congregational Jumma namaz offered around noon. The company makes cricket gears for the Pakistani cricket team. He had been living and working in Pakistan since 2010, having earlier worked in textile factories in Lahore and Faisalabad.
Analysts believe that the mob, consisting of members of the radical Islamist organisation Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), falsely accused the victim of blasphemy and dragged him out of the factory. In the videos shared on Twitter, the mob can be seen chanting “Nara-e-Taqbeer” and “Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah” (i.e. “Here I am at your service, O Messenger of Allah”) while beating the Sri Lankan man with iron rods and sticks.
Another slogan raised was “Gustakh–e–Rasool ki ek hee saza Sar tan se juda Sar tan se juda” (“anyone who insults the prophet, his head must be cut off”), which is a favorite of Islamist mobs in Bharat too and was heard during rallies against Kamlesh Tiwari and Swami Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati too.
As per reports, horrific videos shared across social media show Diyawadana being thrown on to the floor, where hundreds began tearing his clothes, violently beating him. He was tortured to death and then his body was burned. Dozens in the crowd can also be seen taking selfies with his dead body.
Diyawadana had been manager of the factory for seven years. The incident began when rumours emerged that he had taken down and ‘desecrated’ the religious poster. By the morning, a crowd began to gather at the factory gates and by early afternoon they had charged into the factory and seized Diyawadana.
The police assistant commissioner Mohammed Murtaza said: “Due to the renovation of the factory building, some posters were taken off from the wall. They may have desecrated posters bearing the name of Prophet Muhammad. Maybe the manager was lynched because of that.”
He added: “Unfortunately, I can’t affirm or deny anything at the moment. The alibi used for murder is blasphemy but the cause of murder appears personal and targeted. The issue is being investigated.”
Murtaza said at least 50 people had been arrested and more arrests were likely as police went through footage from the scene.
Some Pakistanis on social media also wondered how a person who has been living in Pakistan for the last ten years could have torn the poster of the Prophet of Islam?
Pakistan, an Islamic state, has notoriously draconian laws against blasphemy, which carry the death sentence. The laws are often used against religious minorities and those accused are sometimes lynched before they are proven guilty in a court. The culture of fear around blasphemy cases means judges are often too afraid to find the accused anything other than guilty.
One infamous blasphemy case got international attention because it involved a Christian woman Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death in 2010, but she was acquitted almost a decade later after heavy Western pressure. However, Pakistani Hindus who are routinely targeted using this law hardly ever get international support, even from the secular Indian state.
A few months back, a 8-year-old Pakistani Hindu boy became the youngest to be charged with blasphemy. His crime? He accidentally urinated in a madrasa.
Some critics linked the incident and a recent U-turn by the Imran Khan government in its policy towards the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Tehreek-e-Labaik means “Movement of the Prophet’s Followers” – it is an extremist Sunni Islamist group whose main focus is protecting Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and punishing blasphemers.
The TLP was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to seek the release of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 over his calls to reform blasphemy legislation. Qadri was later executed. The group founded a political party at Qadri’s funeral in 2016 attended by tens of thousands of people.
Following violent clashes in April this year, the Imran Khan government banned the TLP after designating it a terrorist organization and arrested its leader, Saad Rizvi. However, after TLP followers started a wave of deadly protests in Lahore in October, killing at least six police officers, the government agreed to lift the ban on TLP and released Rizvi.
Many fear that incidents of violence over alleged blasphemy cases and mob lynching are escalating as a result. Last week, a police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was set on fire and police vehicles burned after officers refused to hand over a person accused of blasphemy to the mob.
Hussain Haqqani, a scholar at Hudson Institute and former Pakistani ambassador to the US, said Pakistan had indulged and empowered extremist Islamists for years. “The state machinery supports those who are perpetrating violence in the name of religion instead of protecting the victims. Only recently, the government cut a deal with TLP, which was responsible for killing policemen during violent protests,” he said.
He added: “The rise of the TLP has normalised murder over blasphemy allegations. What were once random incidents are now becoming an epidemic.”
Sri Lankan netizens are horrified with the gruesome murder of Priyantha Diyawadana, and some stated what we at HinduPost have maintained all along – “Let’s have no doubt that it (Pakistan) is a theocratic terror state masquerading under a fake democracy.”