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Pakistan: Death sentences over lynching of Sri Lankan man

April 18, 2022

A judge has sentenced six defendants to death and dozens of others to jail terms for attacking their Sri Lankan manager at a factory in December. The case highlights the controversy around blasphemy in Pakistan.

Mourners gather and light candles under a photo of Priyantha Kumara in Lahore
A vigil was held for victim Priyantha Kumara in the city of Lahore shortly after his deathImage: K.M. Chaudary/AP/picture alliance

Prosecutors in Pakistan on Monday said that six men had been sentenced to death for the lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in December of last year.

Life sentences were handed out to at least seven others, while at least 67 others were given two-year jail terms. A single suspect was acquitted.

Kumara worked as a manager at a factory in the industrial city of Sialkot. According to some reports, a group of workers accused him of blasphemy, saying he had "desecrated Islamic stickers."

Suspects took selfies during lynching

The mob savagely beat the manager and then set his body on fire. According to Pakistani newspaper Dawn, prosecutors had a trove of evidence as many of the defendants had taken videos and photographs of themselves participating in the crime. Dozens of witnesses also gave testimony, including a man who had tried in vain to save Kumara.

Blasphemy is a controversial subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Muhammad can result in capital punishment and lesser offenses lead to life sentences.

In January, a Pakistani court sentenced a 26-year-old woman to death for allegedly sharing a caricature of the religious figure on the messaging platform WhatsApp. In February, a mob attacked a mentally ill man in a remote village in the district of Khanewal in Punjab province, stoning him to death for allegedly trying to burn a copy of the Quran.

However, critics both inside Pakistan and abroad have criticized the laws for being vague and sometimes being used to target minorities groups or to exact revenge.

es/dj (Reuters, AP)