A Pakistani court sentenced 6 men to death this week, for their involvement in the mob lynching of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, eastern Pakistan.
During the mass trial, 9 others were sentenced to life imprisonment; one person was sentenced to 5 years and 72 people to 2 years in jail.
48-year-old Priyantha Diyawadanage worked as a factory manager in a sports equipment factory in Sialkot. A mob of factory workers tortured and killed Diyawadanage for an apparent act of blasphemy. Rumours had spread that Diyawadanage had torn down posters bearing holy verses from the walls and thrown them in the bin. According to Mohammed Murtaza, police assistant commissioner, some posters had been removed from the factory's walls in preparation for planned factory renovations.
Blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan's penal code. The laws are often used against religious minorities and there have been reports that they are sometimes employed to settle personal vendettas. Some of those accused of blasphemy are lynched before the court tries them. "The rise of the TLP has normalised murder over blasphemy allegations. What were once random incidents are now becoming an epidemic." commented Hussain Haqqani, former US ambassador and Hudson Institute scholar.
According to the Centre for Social Justice, 200 people were accused of blasphemy in 2020 alone. According to Al Jazeera, at least 82 people were murdered over alleged blasphemy in Pakistan. Human rights organisations have long denounced the draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Pakistan's judiciary system still issues death penalties. However, state executions are rare per proposed reforms attached to EU trade agreements.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would personally oversee the investigation into "the horrific vigilante attack," and called it “a day of shame for Pakistan” adding, “all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law.”
Pakistan, a long-time ally of Sri Lanka, has consistently provided military, diplomatic and financial support despite the on-going discrimination faced by Muslims in Sri Lanka.