By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Pakistani police say they have detained seven "prime actors" in the horrific killing of a Sri Lankan businessman lynched and burned by an angry Muslim mob over alleged "blasphemy" against Islam.
The 48-year-old Priyantha Kumara, an export manager at a textile factory in Pakistan's industrialized city of Sialkot, was a Christian said several sources familiar with the situation. "The Sri Lankan Christian was being burned alive by a Muslim mob in Sialkot," said a pastor in comments obtained by Worthy News.
It wasn't immediately clear whether he was already unconscious when his body was burned in Friday's incident in Sialkot, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of the capital Islamabad.
"He was accused of desecrating the Koran" deemed a holy book by Muslims. Every Christian is terrified in the area," added the pastor whose name is known to Worthy News. The pastor's name wasn't revealed amid security concerns. “My wife is from Sialkot. [But, unfortunately] the government is going to downplay the incident as it brings it a bad name internationally."
Footage showed suspected supporters of the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) beating and then burning the manager while chanting slogans against blasphemy.
The attackers had accused the manager of blasphemy for allegedly tearing down a poster with "Islamic holy" verses, according to police investigators. However, the pastor said in remarks to Worthy News that the violence comes while "Christians are being forced to convert" to Islam in the region.
Police confirmed Kumara was beaten with sticks, fists, and kicks by dozens of men before being dragged to the road outside the factory and set on fire. The attack's social media footage showed dozens of young men chanting slogans
associated with supporting Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Some even took selfies with the burning body.
Local authorities earlier said they arrested as many as 100 people linked to the violence, but Monday's detentions were believed to involve key suspects. The Christian's human remains were due to arrive in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday afternoon local time, said his elder brother Kamal Kumara. "I have to tell the [the perpetrators]: please don't do this, this kind of attack, don't react inhumanly," Kumara told Al Jazeera television via telephone from Colombo. "We are humans, no? We have to respect each other and each other's religion."
Pakistan's famed cricketer-turned-prime minister, Imran Khan, publicly agreed and said he told Sri Lanka's president that justice would be served following the lynching of the Christian.
Khan said he called Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the weekend to "convey our nation's anger and shame" over the death of Priyantha Kumara, who worked at Rajko Industries for ten years.
He also announced that a bravery medal would be conferred on a man who tried to save the Sri Lankan factory manager while risking his own life in Sialkot.
Security camera footage showed a man, identified as the production manager Malik Adnan, confronting a group of angry men all by himself and making desperate attempts to avert the flare-up. He then tried to shield Kumara from the mob in a Sialkot factory.
Christians and other sources said the mob later overpowered Adnan and dragged the Sri Lankan out on the road to torture and kill him. Khan
praised Adnan for trying to save the life of the Christian, who was also known as Priyantha Diyawadana. "On behalf of the nation, I want to salute moral courage and bravery of Malik Adnan who tried his utmost to shelter and save Priyantha Diyawadana from the vigilante mob in Sialkot, including endangering his own life by physically trying to shield victim," Prime Minister Khan wrote on social networking site Twitter. "We will award him Tamgha i Shujaat," he stressed, referring to the award's name.
Yet, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak said the case shouldn't be linked to the government's decision to lift the ban on the radical party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) connected to the attack.
In comments criticized by media, he suggested that the mob may be linked to youngsters "getting emotional" over anti-Islam sentiments. "You know the reasons [behind this incident] too. When children ... grow up, they become spirited and do things out of emotions," Khattar said in published remarks.
"This does not mean this was the result of that action [but] "in Sialkot too some young men had gathered and accused Kumara of disrespecting Islam." Those sentiments were leading to the "sudden lynching" of the man, he noted.
Blasphemy remains a sensitive subject in Pakistan, an Islamic nation where certain forms of crime, including "insulting" Prophet Muhammad, can carry a mandatory death sentence. Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to the imprisonment of Christians and others as well as extrajudicial murders or mob lynchings, such as Friday's attack, Christians said.
According to a tally from several sources, at least 80 people have been killed in such violence since 1990. Missionaries and others urged Christians to pray for believers in the area.
Pakistan has come under pressure to overturn the controversial blasphemy legislation that critics say has contributed to an atmosphere of hatred towards the Christian minority.