Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will personally oversee the investigation into ‘the horrific vigilante attack’.
A Sri Lankan factory manager in Pakistan has been beaten to death and set on fire by a crowd, police confirmed, in an incident reported by local media that it was linked to alleged blasphemy.
The incident took place on Friday in Sialkot, about 200 km (125 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad.
Few issues are as exciting in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of an insult to Islam can provoke protests and incite lynchings.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was overseeing the investigation into “the horrific vigilante attack”, calling it “a day of shame for Pakistan”.
“Let there be no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with the full seriousness of the law,” he tweeted.
The horrific attack on the factory in Sialkot and the live burning of the manager of Sri Lanka is a day of shame for Pakistan. I oversee the investigations & let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full seriousness by the law. Arrests are underway
– Imran Khan (mImranKhanPTI) 3 December 2021
A police officer in Sialkot, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, said investigators believe the attackers accused the driver of blasphemy for breaking down a poster with Islamic holy verses.
Several gruesome video clips shared on social media show a crowd hitting the victim as he sings slogans against blasphemy.
Other clips show how his body was set on fire, as well as the overturned wreckage of what was allegedly his car.
Many in the crowd made no attempt to hide their identities and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
Punjab government spokesman Hassaan Khawar told reporters in Lahore that police had already arrested 50 people.
“Circuit television footage is being carefully investigated as we have been instructed to complete the investigation within 48 hours,” he said.
The slogans sung in the social media videos are the same ones used by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – an anti-blasphemy party.
The TLP has paralyzed the country in the past with protests, including an anti-France campaign, after Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished comics depicting the Prophet Mohammed last year.
Population killings over allegations of blasphemy have been frequent in Pakistan, where crime can carry the death sentence.
Tahir Ashrafi, Khan’s adviser on interfaith harmony, condemned the killers in a recorded video statement shared on social media.
“This is a barbaric act and against the teaching of Islam,” he said.
A senior Pakistani official told AFP news agency Islamabad was in contact with Sri Lankan diplomats about the incident “and assured them that everyone involved in the heinous crime would be brought to justice”.
Law groups say accusations of blasphemy can often be used to seize personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment that enables abuse and endangers lives must be rectified,” Amnesty International South Asia said in a tweet under the hashtag #Sialkot, which was popular in Pakistan.