A Muslim mob in eastern Pakistan lynched a Sri Lankan man Friday before burning his body for allegedly insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Police identified the victim as Priyantha Kumara, saying he was working as an export manager at a private sports equipment factory in Sialkot, an industrial city in the country’s most populous Punjab province.
A co-worker reportedly accused the slain foreigner of desecrating and removing posters from factory walls bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad before informing others about the alleged blasphemy act.
Witnesses and area police officers said factory workers quickly gathered in large numbers and fatally attacked Kumara inside the facility.
“They later dragged his body to a nearby road and torched it,” Hasaan Khawar, the Punjab government spokesman, told reporters, while sharing details of the incident.
He said police had launched a high-level investigation into the attack and sent Kumara’s body to a local hospital for autopsy.
Police said they had already rounded up more than 100 people in connection with the violence and security camera video was being used to identify other suspects.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “the horrific vigilante attack” was a “day of shame for Pakistan.” Khan said he was personally overseeing the investigations and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa denounced Kumara's “cold blooded murder” as extremely condemnable and shameful.
“Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost. (The) COAS directs all-out support to civil administration to arrest perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice,” said an army statement.
Amnesty International said in a statement it was “deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching” of the Sri Lankan factory manager over blasphemy accusations. The rights advocacy group demanded Pakistan conduct an independent and prompt investigation into the incident to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive matter in the predominantly Muslim nation and mob attacks on alleged blasphemers are common, but such violence against foreigners is extremely rare.
Insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where mere blasphemy allegations often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects.
Critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws say accusations of insulting Islam are often used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores in the country.
Earlier this week, a mob of thousands of people stormed and burned a police station in the northwestern Pakistani city of Charsadda in an abortive attempt to grab and lynch a mentally unstable detainee accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Quran.
Last month, the United States designated Pakistan, along with nine other countries, as violators of religious freedom, for “having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The U.S. State Department compiles an annual list of such countries. Other nations listed this year are Russia, China, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Eritrea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Pakistan rejected the designation as “arbitrary” and the outcome of a “selective assessment,” saying it was against the realities on the ground and raised “serious doubts about the credibility” of the U.S. exercise.