Pak police arrest 113 over barbaric murder of Lankan factory manager

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Sri Lanka yesterday called for a full investigation into the brutal killing of a 48-year-old Lankan factory manager in Pakistan by a politically motivated once banned group as widespread local and international condemnation continues.

Wife and two children

Pakistani authorities moved in swiftly to arrest 113 people over last Friday’s beating and then burning alive of Priyantha Kumara, a resident of Ganemulla in the Gampaha district. He was employed in a sportswear manufacturing and exporting factory in Sailkot, a district in central Punjab province, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad.

Pakistani Police yesterday said the manager was killed after it was alleged that he had “committed blasphemy”.

“Rumour spread in the factory that the manager had torn down a religious poster and thrown it in the dustbin,” Zulfiqar Ali, a police official in the area, told AFP.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, House Leader Dinesh Gunwardena and several Parliamentarians were among those who condemned the incident.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Pakistan Vice Admiral (Retd) Mohan Wijewickrema told the Sunday Times the Foreign Ministry in Pakistan has been requested to carry out an investigation while ensuring the security of some 250 Lankans, mostly employed as professionals there.

In a statement, President Rajapaksa said he was greatly saddened upon hearing news of the brutal murder of Priyantha Kumara. “This act of barbarism is a great shock to the Sri Lankans as well as to all those across the world who value humanity,” he stressed.

President Rajapaksa added that as an ardent friend of Pakistan, Sri Lanka commended the actions taken by the Pakistani Government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to ensure justice, immediately after the brutal murder. “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.”

He also urged the Pakistan Government to ensure the safety of all other Sri Lankans living in Pakistan.

Police spokesmanKhurram Shehzad said up to 120 people had been arrested, including one of the main accused.

Tahir Ashrafi, a religious scholar and special representative of the Pakistan prime minister on religious harmony, confirmed the arrest and told AFP that workers had complained of the manager being “very strict.”

“Police experts are investigating this case from various angles, including the possibility that some factory workers played a religious card to take revenge on the manager,” Mr. Ashrafi said.

Mr. Shehzad said raids are continuing.

In Ganemulla, Mr. Kumara’s family was mourning the death with relatives gathering at their home.

His wife Nilushi Dissanayake (45) said her husband had been working at the same factory for nine years. He last came to Sri Lanka in 2019, but could not return again to the country due to the COVID pandemic. “However, he called home on a daily basis.”

Priyantha Kumara Pic by M. A. Pushpa Kumara

Ms Dissanayake said her husband had never mentioned about any problems at work and was not a confrontational person by nature to clash with workers. “He wanted to come home soon because he wanted to build a new house for our family,” she said.

Mr Kumara was the father of two children aged 14 and 9. He was the only breadwinner. “I lost my husband and the children lost their father. We have lost hope. We are urging the Pakistani authorities to ensure justice for us,” Ms Dissanayake said.

The victim’s brother Shantha Kumara (54) has also been working in Pakistan for the past 10 years. He said his brother had worked hard to develop the factory, which makes sportswear. “The factory owner was urging him to remain in Pakistan as he had improved the factory so much. Some reports say the workers were instigated by outsiders who did not like having a foreigner in charge of the factory.  We are fearful that the culprits will escape justice and are appealing for the Pakistani authorities to ensure this will not happen,” he added.

Meanwhile, Muslim religious groups and politicians also condemned the incident. The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) issued a statement yesterday condemning the “horrific inhuman attack” and commended Pakistan’s law enforcement authority for the swift action taken to arrest more than 100 suspects in this regard.

“We urge that the perpetrators be dealt with severely for this brutal murder. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the deceased,” the statement said.

“We cannot tolerate this type of incidents by any community. We also expect from the Pakistan government to fully investigate the incident and submit a report,” All Ceylon Makkal Congress Leader Rishad Bathiudeen said.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem also condemned the incident. “We cannot tolerate such inhuman acts in a moderate world. We have also taken up the matter with the relevant authorities,” he said.

Mr Hakeem also urged the Pakistani Government to conduct an impartial inquiry and ensure the safety of Sri Lankans living and working in Pakistan.

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