A court in Pakistan has sentenced six people to death after convicting them for their roles in last year’s vigilante killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager accused by workers of committing blasphemy.
The six men sentenced to death were convicted of murder of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana in a case that outraged many Pakistanis.
The Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore, set up inside a high-security prison, also gave life sentences to nine people, five years’ jail to one, and two-year sentences to 72, according to a statement from the public prosecutor. Eight of those sentenced were juveniles.
Diyawadana was killed in December by workers at a sports equipment factory in Pakistan’s eastern Sialkot district where he was a manager.
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Few issues are as galvanising in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of an insult to Islam can supercharge protests and incite lynchings.
“The prosecution team worked very hard to present its case to the court and to reach this judgement,” Abdul Rauf Wattoo, the lead public prosecutor, told AFP news agency.
“We are satisfied with the outcome.”
The special anti-terror court was established to speed up justice in high profile cases that can otherwise spend years being processed.
Hafiz Israr ul Haq, lawyer for one of the men sentenced to death, called the verdict “unfair”.
“This was a case of mob violence and in such cases no individual’s role can be ascertained with certainty,” he told AFP.
At the time of the killing, local police officials told AFP that rumours spread that Diyawadana had torn down a religious poster and thrown it in the dustbin.
Several gruesome video clips shared on social media showed a mob beating him while chanting slogans against blasphemy. Other clips showed Diyawadana’s body set ablaze.
Many in the mob made no attempt to hide their identity and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy can often be wielded to settle personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
In April 2017, an angry mob lynched university student Mashal Khan when he was accused of posting blasphemous content online.
A Christian couple was lynched and their remains burned in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Quran.
The Centre for Social Justice – an independent group advocating for the rights of minorities in Pakistan – says at least 84 people were accused of committing blasphemy last year.
Since 1990, at least 82 people have been murdered over alleged blasphemy in Pakistan, according to an Al Jazeera tally. Five of those killings took place last year alone, including mobs stoning and burning victims to death.