04/20/2022, 17.18
PAKISTAN
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Exemplary convictions in blasphemy lynching case but opposition to death penalty remains

by Shafique Khokhar

Lahore High Court convicted 88 people in connection with the death of Sri Lankan-born factory general manager killed by a mob. Six defendants get the death penalty. For Pakistani human rights groups, this is an Important step, but those unjustly jailed for blasphemy deserve justice.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Lahore High Court convicted 88 of the 89 people on trial for the lynching of Priyantha Diyawadanage, the general manager of a factory in Sialkot, originally from Sri Lanka.

Six defendants were sentenced to death, nine to life in prison while the rest received sentences ranging from two to five years. Although happy with the convictions, human rights groups in Pakistan remain opposed to the death penalty.

Diyawadanage was attacked and beaten to death on 3 December 2021 after he was accused of blasphemy.

In coming to its decision, the court relied on videos of the attack from the mobile phones of 55 defendants, as well as the statements from a number of witnesses placed under court protection.

According to Mariyam Kashif Anthony, a social activist from Karachi, the verdict and the quick trial are a good thing. Now “We expect victims of blasphemy [accusations] will be brought to trial just as quickly,” she said. “Many people are still in jail because of this type of accusation.”

Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP), has reservations about the death penalty; still, he acknowledges “the courageous decision to bring the guilty to justice.”

For him, this “decision is a clear message that false charges of blasphemy damage Pakistan’s image and people suffer from extreme violence for crimes they have not committed.”

To further this, “We demand that pupils in schools and madrasas be sensitised and that fundamentalist mindsets be changed.”

He also wants the authorities to ban speech that praises blasphemy murderers as heroes “so that young people are not encouraged to act the same way.”

With respect to blasphemy, mob violence must be stopped and the law should guarantee the rights of those accused of blasphemy to prevent incidents like the one in which Priyantha Kumara lost his life.

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