LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Police arrested 13 suspects and detained dozens of others in the lynching of a Sri Lankan employee at a sports equipment factory in eastern Pakistan, officials said Saturday.
A mob of hundreds of enraged Muslims descended on the factory in the district of Sialkot in Punjab province Friday after the Sri Lankan manager of the factory was accused of blasphemy.
The mob grabbed Priyantha Kumara, lynched him and publicly burned the body, according to police. Factory workers accused the victim of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Punjab police chief Rao Sardar said Saturday that investigators arrested prominent suspects after seeing their clear role on video in instigating workers to violence, killing the manager and dragging his body outside, and taking selfies with his burning body and proudly admitting what they did.
Sardar, in his initial report to authorities, said the victim had asked the workers to remove all stickers from factory machines before a foreign delegation arrived. It said the incident started at around 11 a.m. and three constables reached the factory to control the situation shortly after.
Hassan Khawar, spokesman for the Punjab government, said the provincial police chief was personally overseeing the investigation.
Khurram Shahzad, a police official in Sialkot district, said 123 suspects were detained in ongoing raids.
The lynching was widely condemned by Pakistan’s military and political leadership, prominent social and religious figures and civil society members.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sugeeswara Gunaratne said Friday that Sri Lanka’s embassy in Islamabad was verifying details of the incident with Pakistani authorities.
In the conservative society of Pakistan mere allegations of blasphemy invite mob attacks. The country’s blasphemy law carries the death penalty for anyone found guilty of the offense.
Friday’s attack came less than a week after a Muslim mob burned a police station and four police posts in northwestern Pakistan after officers refused to hand over a mentally unstable man accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Quran. No officers were hurt in the attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan’s government has long been under pressure to change the country’s blasphemy laws, which Islamists strongly resist.
A Punjab governor was shot and killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and, following threats, left Pakistan for Canada to join her family.