A Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, Pakistan was brutally murdered and set on fire by a mob chanting slogans of Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The manager allegedly removed TLP posters. The mob falsely accused him of blasphemy to justify their actions.
In response to a question from Global Strat View, a State Department spokesperson commented, “We are deeply disturbed and saddened by the unspeakable tragic event at the Sialkot factory. We urge relevant authorities to investigate and bring those responsible for heinous and unlawful violence to justice.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said the “horrific vigilante attack on factory in Sialkot and the burning alive of Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan. I am overseeing the investigations and let there be no mistake all those responsible will be punished with full severity of the law.”
Key findings from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) report Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws, show that nearly 80% of the incidents of mob activity, violence, or threats (with or without state enforcement) related to blasphemy allegations, took place in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt. Among countries with state blasphemy laws, Pakistan has the most number of reported cases.
Blasphemy accusations have often sparked violence in Pakistan. Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, who was an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, was murdered in 2011 by his bodyguard for speaking out against it. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s former Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs and the first Christian parliamentarian in Pakistan’s government was assassinated by Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban. Both Taseer and Bhatti had advocated for the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who spent nearly a decade in prison after being sentenced to death for blasphemy. Bibi was freed after pressure from the international community.
Pakistani media has blamed the government for mainstreaming radical groups like TLP. Pakistani journalist Nadeem Farooq Paracha tweeted, “Stop calling what happened today as ‘madness’. It was normalized by the state and government decades ago. It became a new norm. If you want to call anyone mad, then call them mad. They did it through myopic politics, textbooks, mainstreaming, and by appeasing hatemongers.”
Pakistani policy analyst and journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi tweeted, “The videos of his lynching/burning are brutal reminders of state policies that have radicalized generations, normalizing murders and mainstreaming radical groups.”
Pakistan lifted its ban on the radical Islamist TLP last month after an agreement was reached with the government that TLP would call off its proposed march to the capital, Islamabad. The government defended its decision to lift the ban, saying it was in the larger national interest and would prevent future violence from TLP.
TLP was banned last year after violent protests in response to the republication of cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Poonam is a multi-media journalist, and Managing Editor of India America Today (IAT). She launched its print edition in 2019 with IAT's Founder and Editor, the late Tejinder Singh.