Pakistan on Monday repatriated the remains of a Sri Lankan factory manager who was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob after they accused him of blasphemy.
The vigilante attack has sparked outrage, with Prime Minister Imran Khan calling it a “day of shame for Pakistan”.
Few issues are as galvanising in the country as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of an insult to Islam can supercharge protests and incite lynchings.
Priyantha Diyawadana was killed on Friday in the central district of Sialkot, in Punjab province, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad.
“The dead body of the Sri Lankan manager has been airlifted and sent to Colombo,” Tahir Ashrafi, a religious scholar and special representative of the prime minister on religious harmony, told AFP.
Read more: Another innocent life gone in vain?
Police have so far arrested 131 people including 26 prime suspects who have been remanded in custody, Sialkot police spokesman Khurram Shehzad told AFP.
Several gruesome video clips shared on social media showed a mob beating the prone victim while chanting slogans against blasphemy.
Many in the crowd made no attempt to hide their identity and some took selfies in front of the burning corpse.
However prime minister Khan announced a bravery medal would be awarded to a man who had attempted to save Diyawadana, endangering his own life.
It will be the first time that a person has received the award in a case linked to blasphemy.
The body of a #SriLankan citizen has been delivered to Lahore Airport. #PriyanthaKumar's body will be flown to Sri Lanka shortly. He was working as a manager at a #Sialkot factory was set on fire on Friday after his mob tortured him to death for blasphemy. pic.twitter.com/zDZuXE4d5f
— bandhini fernando (@BandhiniF) December 6, 2021
Local police officials told AFP that rumours spread that Diyawadana had “torn down a religious poster and thrown it in the dustbin”.
Ashrafi told AFP that workers had also complained of the manager being “very strict”.
“Police experts are investigating this case from various angles, including that some factory workers played a religious card to take revenge on the manager,” he said at the weekend.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy can often be wielded to settle personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Koran.
In April 2017 an angry mob killed university student Mashal Khan when he was accused of posting blasphemous content online.
Read more: Foreign national lynched over alleged blasphemy in Sialkot
And only last month, thousands of people torched a police station in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after demanding officers hand over a man accused of burning the Koran.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk