Lynched Sri Lankan man’s family seeks justice from Pakistan

Priyantha Kumara’s family says it is still struggling to make sense of the ‘inhumanity’ of the killing as they make preparations for the funeral.

People light oil lamps next to laid roses to express their condolences to the people of Sri Lanka, following the lynching of the Sri Lankan factory manager, in Karachi, Pakistan [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani police say they have arrested seven “prime actors” in the brutal mob lynching of a Sri Lankan factory manager over alleged “blasphemy”, as the man’s family say they are still struggling to make sense of the “inhumanity” of the killing while they make preparations for his funeral.

The body of Priyantha Kumara, 48, a general manager at a Pakistani textile factory in the eastern city of Sialkot, was due to arrive in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday afternoon, his elder brother Kamal Kumara told Al Jazeera.

“I have to tell the [the perpetrators]: please don’t do this, this kind of attack, don’t react inhumanly,” Kumara told Al Jazeera via telephone from Colombo.

“We are humans, no? We have to respect each other and each other’s religion.”

Members of the Sri Lankan civil society protest demanding justice for the lynching [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

On Friday, the younger Kumara was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam at the factory he managed in Sialkot, a huge industrial centre located about 100km (62 miles) north of Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore.

Police say he was beaten with sticks, fists and kicks by a mob of dozens, before being dragged to the road outside the factory and set on fire. Social media footage of the attack showed dozens of young men chanting slogans associated with supporting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, as some took selfies with the burning body.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where certain forms of the crime, including insulting Prophet Muhammad, can carry a mandatory death sentence. Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to extrajudicial murders or mob lynchings, with at least 80 people killed in such attacks since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

The victim is survived by his wife and two children, aged nine and 14. Kumara’s family has asked the Sri Lankan government to request financial compensation from either the Pakistani government or Kumara’s employer for his immediate family.

“We believe that [Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan] will take serious action,” said Kamal Kumara. “I told [Sri Lankan officials to] please ask the Pakistani government to help his family, because he has a wife and two children who are alone, and they need to be educated.”

On Monday, a statement by the Pakistani police said they had arrested seven additional suspects, bringing the total number of those arrested for the attack to 131.

“These include those involved in planning the attack on the Sri Lankan manager, as well as those who tortured him and those who incited others,” said a statement.

Sri Lankans protest outside the Pakistani High Commission office in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Brutal killing shocks nation

Priyantha Kumara was the youngest of six siblings, and his mother has still not been told the details of how he was killed, his brother Kamal, 53, said. He said the family members have been tasked with keeping her away from social media and television news lest she sees footage of the attack.

“My mother is 80 years old, she is not well in health, and still we can’t explain to her what has happened,” he said. “She is crying continuously.

“We just told her there is some accident, we cannot say what has happened.”

Kamal Kumara and a second brother live in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, about 175km (108 miles) southwest of Sialkot, where both also work in textile factories. Priyantha Kumara, a textile engineer, moved to Sialkot in 2010 to pursue work as an industrial engineer and later became a factory manager “because of better economic prospects”.

Kamal said all three Kumara brothers had never had any complaints while living in Pakistan.

“Many people are my friends, and other [Pakistanis], they have taken my number they are calling us and crying, they are saying that we [feel] shameful to talk to you, we are, all Pakistanis, with you,” he said.

People light lamps in front of the portrait of the lynched Sri Lankan worker, in Karachi [Shahzaib Akber/EPA]

The brutal killing has shocked Pakistan, with religious leaders, civil society and politicians across the spectrum condemning the murder. On Sunday, civil society groups held a small demonstration against the killing in the eastern city of Lahore.

‘Gone from this world’

On Friday, rights group Amnesty International called for an impartial inquiry into the killing.

“Authorities must immediately conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment that enables abuse and puts lives at risk must be rectified.”

Religious violence around the issue of blasphemy has risen in the South Asian country in recent years, with the rise of the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) religious group accompanied by an increase in violence against alleged “blasphemers”.

“[Priyantha] was not concerned [about this], because we are always focusing on our duty [and] at our company we are not having any religious discussions,” said Kamal. “We are respecting that they are religious, so we never got a bad impression, and we didn’t want them to have a bad impression from our side.”

A post-mortem examination of Priyantha Kumara’s body will be carried out by Sri Lankan authorities on Tuesday, with his funeral scheduled for Wednesday in his native Gampaha district, 20km (12.4 miles) northeast of Colombo.

His brothers, meanwhile, are debating whether they can return to Pakistan safely, and how to break the details of his death to their ailing mother, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.

“We are struggling how to explain this thing to her,” said Kamal. “My brother is gone now, is gone from this world.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera