A Sri Lankan factory manager in Pakistan was beaten to death and set on fire by a mob on Friday, police confirmed, in an incident reported by local media to be linked to alleged blasphemy.
Few issues are as galvanizing in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of insulting Islam can fuel protests and incite lynchings.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would personally oversee an investigation into the “horrific self-defense attack” which he also called “a day of shame for Pakistan”.
“Make no mistake, all those responsible will be punished with all the rigor of the law,” he tweeted.
Friday’s incident took place in Sialkot, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad.
Several gruesome video clips shared on social media showed a crowd beating the victim lying down while chanting slogans against blasphemy.
Other clips showed her body set on fire, as well as the overturned wreckage of what would have been her car.
Many in the crowd made no attempt to hide their identities and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
Punjab government spokesman Hassaan Khawar told reporters in Lahore that police have already arrested 50 people.
“The CCTV footage is being carefully reviewed as we have been ordered to complete the investigation within 48 hours,” he said.
The slogans chanted in the social media videos were the same ones used by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – an anti-blasphemy party.
The TLP has in the past paralyzed the country with protests, including an anti-France campaign after Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad last year.
It was only banned last month and its leader was released from detention after another period of civil unrest in which seven police officers were killed.
In just five years, the party has seen its reach explode in Pakistan, ushering in a new chapter in the country’s deadly confrontation with extremism.
Thousands of people torched a police station in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday after asking police to hand over a man accused of burning the Koran.
In April 2017, an angry mob lynched college student Mashal Khan when he was accused of posting blasphemous material online.
A Christian couple were lynched and then burned in an oven in the Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Koran.
A senior Pakistani official told AFP that Islamabad had been in contact with Sri Lankan diplomats about the incident “and assured them that all those involved in this heinous crime would be brought to justice.”
Rights groups say blasphemy accusations can often be used to settle personal blood feuds, with minorities largely the target.
“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which an environment which allows abuse and endangers lives must be rectified,” Amnesty International South Asia said in a tweet under the hashtag “Sialkot”, which was all the rage in Pakistan.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)