88 Convicted For Lynching a Man and Taking Selfies With His Corpse

Security officials gather near a factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on December 3, 2021 after police confirmed that its Sri Lankan manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by mob. Photo Credit: AFP

A Pakistani court has sentenced 88 people for the shocking murder of an expat Sri Lankan factory manager by a mob of workers who accused him of committing blasphemy.

Six men were sentenced to death, nine to life imprisonment, and 72, including eight juveniles, were given jail terms ranging from two to five years. The verdict comes less than four months after the mob in the Pakistani city of Sialkot mercilessly beat Priyantha Diyawadanage, lynched him and set his body set on fire. Several perpetrators even took selfies with his burning corpse.

Although no one has ever been legally executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, around 40 convicts are on death row in the country’s jails on blasphemy charges.

Blasphemy is a controversial and fear-inducing subject in Muslim-majority Pakistan where it is legally punishable by death, and baseless allegations of blasphemy have incited vigilante killings. At least 82 people have been murdered in Pakistan since 1990 as a result of accusations or rumors that they committed blasphemy, according to a tally by Al Jazeera.

Diyawadanage, a Sri Lankan who had been living in Pakistan for 12 years, is now part of that statistic. Working as the general manager at a Rajco Industries factory, he was ruthlessly tortured to death by a mob of hundreds on Dec. 3. 

Earlier that day, rumors that Diyawadanage committed blasphemy by tearing stickers bearing the sacred name of the Prophet Muhammad had spread across the factory, leading to a large protest outside of its gates. Fearing for his safety, Diyawadanage climbed to the roof hoping to escape, but the rioters forcefully dragged him onto the street, where they beat him to death. 

According to a colleague who had attempted to rescue Diyawadanage from the attackers, the stickers had been temporarily removed as part of a factory clean up. 

The police had initially registered cases against 800 to 900 people for their involvement in the attack and arrested 131. 

“The prosecution team worked very hard to present its case to the court and to reach this judgement,” Abdul Rauf Wattoo, the public prosecutor, told AFP. “We are satisfied with the outcome.”

But not everyone is. Blasphemy law expert and advocate Saif-ul-Malook says the rulings are an inadequate attempt at justice. “Such prosecutions are not the solution to the problem. They are only sentencing those who were just at the face of it and exempting the ones who let it happen, such as the owners of the factory, the district police and the district administration of Sialkot,” he told VICE World News. 

Blasphemy accusations and charges are frequently weaponized against religious minorities and used to settle personal vendettas. In March, a teacher was murdered outside a religious seminary by other teachers from a rival seminary in the area. According to police, the assailants had been convinced to kill the woman based on a child’s dream. 

The Sialkot incident has raised a major outcry in both Sri Lanka and Pakistan, where vigils were held after the attack. Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan dubbed the case as “a day of shame” for the country. 

Although the verdict has been welcomed by many, some are too weary to celebrate. 

“To my mind, this is all eyewash by the government of Pakistan to save face in front of the international community,” said Malook. 

“I think the sentences will be overturned in the High Court and the Supreme Court. People will forget this, there will be new incidents and people will run after those. This is not a serious effort to eliminate such incidents in future.”

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