Remains of Kumara sent to Colombo, 132 suspects arrested, 26 remanded
ISLAMABAD: The remains of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara, who was lynched in the northeastern Pakistani city of Sialkot last week, were flown to Colombo from Lahore via a Sri Lankan Airlines flight on Monday, Pakistani officials said.
A Muslim mob on Friday attacked and killed Sri Lankan Priyantha Kumara and burned his body publicly over allegations he had committed blasphemy in the northeastern city of Sialkot.
Blasphemy is considered a deeply sensitive issue in Pakistan, and carries the death penalty. International and domestic rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Kumara’s remains were transported from Lahore to Colombo via SriLankan Airlines flight UL-186 at 12:30pm on Monday, in the presence of Pakistani and Sri Lankan officials.
The body was brought to the airport in an ambulance where Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine received it and dispatched it via a Sri Lankan Airlines flight with state honours.
Other officials present on the occasion included Special Representative to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Ashrafi, Honorary Consul General of Sri Lanka Yasin Joya and representatives of the Punjab Home Department and Sri Lankan High Commission.
“On the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, I am at the airport to send mortal remains of Priyantha Kumara to Sri Lanka with complete state protocol,” Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, special representative of the Pakistani PM on religious harmony.
Ashrafi vowed that all perpetrators of the heinous crime would be brought to justice. “PM Khan is himself overseeing all developments in the investigation. It is not a religious matter, but the people who were involved used not only religion but defamed it too.”
Pakistan’s acting high commissioner Tanvir Ahmed will be at the Colombo airport along with Sri Lankan officials to receive Kumara’s remains, according to the Pakistani high commission in Colombo.
7 more prime suspects arrested
The Punjab police on Monday announced the arrest of seven more of the prime suspects allegedly involved in the lynching of 49-year-old Kumara, taking the total number of arrests to 132.
Over the past three days, the police have arrested scores. The suspects included the individual allegedly involved in planning the attack as well as others who waged violence and incited others. The police added that out of the 132 people arrested, 26 played a “central role” in the brutal killing.
26 suspects remanded
Later in the day, 26 of the arrested suspects were remanded in police custody for 15 days by a special anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Gujranwala.
Police produced the suspects in the court of ATC judge Natasha Naseem Sipra amid tight security, and sought their 15-day physical remand for investigation purposes.
Accepting the plea, the judge remanded the 26 suspects, including a 16-year-old boy, in police custody for 15 days. She ordered police to present them again on December 21. The suspects were taken to Sialkot after the court appearance.
Thirteen of the main suspects were also produced in a criminal court and subsequently remanded in police custody for one day. The suspects were identified as Farhan Idrees, Saboor Butt, Talha, Abdul Rehman, Imran, Taimur, Shoaib, Raheel, Usman, Shahzaib, Nasir, Ehtisham and Junaid.
They were produced in the court of judge Zarif Ahmed amid tight security. They were produced before the Gujranwala anti-terrorism court on Monday.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Saturday he was deeply saddened by the brutal assassination of a citizen in Pakistan on blasphemy allegation, but praised the administration in Islamabad for taking steps to ensure justice.
Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokesperson Sugeeshwara Gunaratne told Arab News the victim was in his late forties and survived by his wife and two children below 10 years of age.
“As an ardent friend of Pakistan, Sri Lanka commends the actions taken by the Government of Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to ensure justice, immediately after this brutal assassination,” the Sri Lankan president said. “The Sri Lankan Government and the people of Sri Lanka look forward with great confidence on the future steps that will be taken by the Government of Pakistan in this regard.”
“I also urge the Government of Pakistan to ensure the safety of all other Sri Lankans living in Pakistan,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan
The Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan described it as “a day of shame” for his country, though more than a hundred people were arrested by the police after the incident who are currently being investigated.
He said in a Twitter post he had spoken to the Sri Lankan president “to convey our nation’s anger & shame” over Diyawadana’s killing in Sialkot city, adding that over a hundred people had been arrested in the case and would be prosecuted.
Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said it was “shocking” to see the brutal and fatal attack on Diyawadana by extremist mobs in Pakistan.
“My heart goes out to his wife and family,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sri Lanka and her people are confident that PM Imran Khan will keep to his commitment to bring all those involved to justice.”
Sri Lankan High Commissioner
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Pakistan Vice Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama expressed satisfaction over Pakistani authorities’ response to Kumara’s killing, and said the incident would not affect friendly ties between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters on Monday after meeting some PTI leaders who visited him to convey condolences, the envoy condemned the lynching, saying such incidents could not be tolerated. But added that “we are very sure that the incident itself was not targeting our country, our religion or our race. It was an incident in isolation.”
Wijewickrama noted that a large number of suspects had already been rounded up and legal action was being pursued against them.
“Our relations between the two countries will not have an impact because of this incident,” he said, recalling that Pakistan-Sri Lankan ties went back to the time of independence and Pakistan had always come to Sri Lanka’s assistance.
He said discussions were also underway with the Pakistani government as to how Kumara’s family could be compensated. “We are very confident that this incident will be handled by the Government of Pakistan in a manner that justice will be given,” he added.
The slogans chanted in the social media videos were the same used by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a religious political party that has railed against blasphemy on its rise to prominence.
The TLP has in the past paralyzed the country with protests, including an anti-France campaign after Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The group was only unbanned last month and its leader freed from detention after another period of civil unrest in which seven police officers were killed.
Friday’s attack came less than a week after a Muslim mob burned a police station and four police posts in northwest Pakistan after officers refused to hand over a man accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an. No officers were hurt in the attacks in Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.