Mourners demand justice for Sri Lankan man lynched in Pakistan

Hundreds in Sri Lanka attend the funeral of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, who was killed by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan.

Diyawadana's mother grieves at her son's coffin after his body was returned to Sri Lanka [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

Ganemulla, Sri Lanka – Mourners who gathered for the funeral of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan man lynched by a mob in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy, have urged the authorities in both South Asian nations to ensure justice for the victim.

Diyawadana’s body was taken to Polhena cemetery in Ganemulla, 25km (11 miles) from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Wednesday, after Buddhist rites had been conducted.

On Friday, the 48-year-old was attacked by a mob and burned to death in Sialkot, Pakistan, where he worked as a factory manager. Workers at the factory had reportedly accused him of desecrating posters featuring the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

He is survived by his wife, Nilushi, and two sons, aged 14 and nine. Many leading politicians arrived at Diyawadana’s home in Ganemulla, along with Buddhist and Catholic leaders, to pay their respects. Some 400-500 people joined the funeral procession from Diyawadana’s home to the cemetery.

“I am just too shocked to say what I want from anyone now. My world has collapsed,” his wife Nilushi told Al Jazeera. “A lot of politicians came and offered help and said they were sorry for my loss.”

Manjula, a close relative who goes by one name, said the family expects the Pakistani authorities to punish those responsible.

“There may be diplomatic considerations but since we are friends [with Pakistan] more can be done,” he said when asked if he was satisfied with the response of the Sri Lankan government.

‘Punish the guility’

Allegations of blasphemy have often triggered several mob attacks in Pakistan, where blasphemy carries a possible death penalty.

Pakistani authorities say they have arrested dozens in connection with the killing and the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised that those found guilty will be severely punished.

But Kavinda Jayawardhana, a member of parliament for Diyawadana’s home district, accused powerful officials in Pakistan of attempting to sweep the killing under the carpet and criticised Defence Minister Pervez Khattak for saying in response to the lynching that “murders take place” when young people get emotional.

“We saw the defence minister of Pakistan trying to shrug it off as the result of ‘boys being boys’. The defence minister must apologise and punish these terrorists. We are opposed to any attempts to whitewash them,” Jayawardhana said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s former Human Rights Commissioner Prathiba Mahanamahewa said a failure to deliver justice over the incident could lead to deteriorating relations with Pakistan, including at the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session.

Claims that lynching was carried out by supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a group whose ban was lifted recently, was not a vote of confidence in Pakistan’s threat assessment capacity, he added.

“Pakistan has been a friend to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in the past. The best way for Pakistan is to punish those who are guilty and apologise at the UNHRC,” Mahanamahewa said.

“Pakistan is a country that has been trying to rebuild its brand internationally, and this is a major blow for their brand-building activities.”

After talking to Diyawadana’s family members on Wednesday, the Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament Mahindra Yapa Abeywardena urged Sri Lankans not to target anyone because of the killing.

“We must preserve our humanity. That is what Priyantha would have wanted,” he told the media.

Manjula said that, despite the murder of his close relative, he feels no animosity towards Muslims.

“I know the family feels this way too. We have never thought of being angry with Muslims here or in Pakistan. These guys [the killers] are extremists and for the benefit of regular people these groups must be crushed,” said Manjula.

Source: Al Jazeera