The Pakistani church leadership has strongly condemned the lynching and burning of the body of a Sri Lankan Christian by a frenzied mob in Sialkot on Saturday.
In a joint statement, Church of Pakistan Moderator/President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Francis Shaw said the gruesome killing of Priyantha Kumara, who was working in a sports garments manufacturing factory as a general manager for the last 10 years, on blasphemy allegations had shocked and pained the entire country.
“Mr Kumara’s cold blooded murder has left us all grieving. Ours hearts and prayers go out to his family and to the Sri Lankan people on this great tragedy. As Pakistanis, our heads hang in shame!” they said.
Bishop Marshall said that public outcry over the Sialkot and Charsadda incidents showed that a huge majority of Pakistani citizens were opposed to growing extremism and intolerance in society and wanted to see the State fulfill its responsibility of ensuring security and justice to all those living in the country.
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“We appreciate the condemnatory messages of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and their promises to bring to justice all those involved in this barbaric incident.
“We believe that the State will administer justice to Mr Kumara’s family and to the Sri Lankan people, but we hope that our leadership has now also realized the need for introspection of its own policies on curbing extremism.
“This incident has intensified the fear of religious vigilantism. We are all very concerned about the deteriorating situation and are looking up to the State and government authorities to come up with a concrete solution to this recurring problem,” he said.
Bishop Marshall said that the government must bring a strong deterrent against the misuse of the blasphemy allegations.
“Superior courts as well as the Council of Islamic Ideology have recommended the government, on different instances, to act against false accusations of blasphemy but it has not acted yet. Though the government itself admits that a majority of blasphemy cases arise from personal grudges and disputes, yet we fail to understand why it is not doing anything to stop this cruel culture,” he said.
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Bishop Marshall suggested the formation of special courts and a special task force comprising officials from the army, intelligence agencies and police officials to investigate blasphemy allegations before the registration of a case.
“The issue has gone beyond the control of the local police. It cannot sustain pressure in blasphemy cases. If the task force comprising army officials finds the allegations false and clears the accused, I don’t think any religious party or group will have any objection to that. Similarly, any person found guilty of the charge should be proceeded against according to the law. This is one possible deterrent against the blatant misuse of the laws and mob violence,” he said.
In his remarks, Archbishop Shaw echoed Bishop Marshall’s demand for justice for the victim.
“All those responsible for killing Mr Kumara should be arrested, tried and punished. The government should make this case an example for all those who take the law into their own hands,” he said.
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Bishop Shaw said that no religion preaches intolerance and extremism. “We demand the government to take action against those perpetrating hate in society and ensure the protection of all citizens from such elements,” he added.