Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would personally oversee the investigation into the “appalling attack by Vigilante Security Forces”.
Police have confirmed that a Sri Lankan factory manager in Pakistan was beaten to death and set on fire by a mob, in an incident local media reported to be linked to alleged blasphemy.
The accident occurred in Sialkot, about 200 km southeast of the capital, Islamabad, on Friday.
Few issues get as excited in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest hint of insult to Islam could intensify protests and incite extrajudicial executions.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was overseeing the investigation into the “horrific attack on civil”, describing it as a “day of shame for Pakistan”.
“There should be no mistake that all those responsible will be punished with the strictness of the law,” he wrote on Twitter.
The horrific attack on a factory in Sialkot and the burning of a Sri Lankan manager alive is a day of shame for Pakistan. I am supervising investigations and there should be no mistake. All those responsible will be punished strictly by law. Arrests are underway
– Imran Khan (@mImranKhanPTI) December 3, 2021
A police official in Sialkot, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case, said investigators believe the attackers accused the director of blasphemy for tearing up a poster with holy verses.
Several shocking videos circulated on social media showed a crowd beating the victim while chanting anti-blasphemy slogans.
Other clips showed his body on fire, as well as the overturned wreckage of what was said to be his car.
Not many mobs tried to hide their identity and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
Hassan Khawar, a spokesman for the Punjab government, told reporters in Lahore that police had already arrested 50 people.
“The CCTV footage is being carefully considered as we have been directed to complete the investigation within 48 hours,” he said.
The slogans chanted in the videos on social media were the same as those used by supporters of Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – an anti-infidel party.
The TLP party has in the past paralyzed the country with protests, including an anti-French campaign after Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Mob killings over accusations of blasphemy have been frequent in Pakistan, where the crime can carry the death penalty.
Tahir Ashrafi, Khan’s advisor for interfaith harmony, condemned the killers in a recorded video statement circulated on social media.
He said, “It is a barbaric act that goes against the teachings of Islam.”
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 the heinous crime would be brought to justice”.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy can often be brought to settle a personal vendetta, with minorities largely targeted.
“Today’s event underscores the urgency with which the environment that allows abuses and puts lives at risk must be corrected,” Amnesty International South Asia said in a tweet under the hashtag #Sialkot, which has been trending in Pakistan.