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ASIA/PAKISTAN – Sentences, violence and murders for blasphemy

Lahore – A so-called Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore has ruled in the murder of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara, who was killed by a mob in Sialkot in December 2021 on charges of blasphemy . The court sentenced a total of six people to death and nine others to life imprisonment, while 72 defendants were sentenced to two years in prison. In addition, a total compensation of 600,000 Pakistani rupees is due to the victim’s family.
Hundreds of protesters killed Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan national and employee of Rajco Industries in Sialkot, and then burned his body. The man was brutally tortured to death on December 3, 2021 for alleged blasphemy: he had removed asticker with an Islamic prayer from the company’s production machine. Priyantha Kumara, who did not understand the Islamic text on the sticker, was monitoring the cleaning process ahead of an international delegation visiting the sporting goods manufacturer’s production facility.
A First Information Report was filed against 900 Rajco industrial workers and several arrests were made. On March 12, the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court indicted 89 people, 80 adults and 9 minors. The investigation included videos from social media and cellphones of 55 suspects, as well as digital media posts, DNA evidence, eyewitnesses and forensic evidence.
Catholic human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar, from Pakistan’s Punjab province, welcomed the Anti-Terrorism Court’s decision: “The Priyantha Kumara incident has brought shame to the country and damaged Pakistan’s reputation. Many people see this court decision as a breath of fresh air to punish violent mob attacks and hope this is a warning to those who are taking justice into their own hands in the name of religion”.
Khokhar adds: “However, there is still a chance that this ruling will be challenged in the Supreme Court. But crowd violence based solely on suspicion must not be tolerated or permitted in a constitutional state and this case must set an example for the future”. “The state must monitor against intra-societal violence and inter-religious hatred. They should keep a close eye on the fundamentalists who are responsible for these types of cases,” Ashiknaz Khokhar concluded.
In another case of blasphemy that occurred just a few weeks ago, three young Muslim women, Aisha Nomani, 17, Razia Hanfi, 21, and Umra Aman, 24, who work at the Islamic Seminary, were arrested last week for killing a 21-year-old Muslim woman Safoora Bibi, their former colleague, after accusing her of blasphemy.
The victim was attacked in front of the Islamic seminary after a 13-year-old student who is related to the three perpetrators allegedly said she saw the woman committing blasphemy in a dream and was then told in the dream to kill her. So the scientist known for her Islamic studies was killed because of a dream.
Catholic human rights activist Sabir Michael from Karachi told Fides: “This is a very sad, absurd and tragic incident that shows how hatred and intolerance are increasing in our society”. “The situation is desperate and the rule of law is not respected”, he laments, “people kill even because of a dream”. “It must also be said”, he continues,
“that these accusations are generally unfounded: in Pakistan, citizens respect religion and do not commit slander against the prophets of any religion. We condemn in the strongest terms the murder of an innocent Muslim woman and speak out against the abuse of the blasphemy law”. “It is the government’s responsibility – Michael continued – to take effective measures to create a climate of tolerance and respect, particularly in religious matters, to protect those accused of blasphemy. No one should be punished before a fair investigation and trial”.

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