On Monday, Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court in Lahore convicted 88 people in the lynching of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara. Kumara had been working as a factory manager in Sialkot’s Rajco Industries, for nearly a decade. On December 3, he was accused of blasphemy when he allegedly opposed the placement of a poster inscribed with Islamic verses in the factory. This led an angry mob of hundreds of people, including workers of the factory, to torture him to death and set his body on fire.
Punjab’s Prosecution Department Secretary Nadeem Sarwar said that out of 88, one person was acquitted, 72 others were given two years of jail sentence each, and one person was sentenced to five years in prison. The court awarded the death sentence to six convicts on two counts, and ordered them to pay Rs 2,00,000 each as compensation to the victim’s family. Additionally, nine of the accused have been sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay Rs 2,00,000 each as fine, and Rs 2,00,000 as compensation to legal heirs of the deceased.
The police had filed charges against 89 people after three months of investigation, nine of whom were minors. According to a press release, the prosecution produced 43 witnesses, including eyewitnesses, in addition to forensic, audio, video and documentary evidence. Reportedly, many in the mob had made no attempt to hide their identity during the incident as many documented it, and some took selfies with the burning corpse.
This incident drew widespread outrage from activists and politicians, including then prime minister Imran Khan, who called it a “day of shame for Pakistan”. It sparked protests condemning the lynching across the country, and demands for government intervention to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law were made.
Several reports suggest that lynching in the name of religion is common in Pakistan under the country’s strict laws against blasphemy and defamation of Islam. Moreover, some activists have indicated that the laws are often misused to settle personal vendettas.