December 20th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Investigators have identified 85 suspects who had active role in the lynching of Sri Lankan national on December 3 after going through closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage and interrogation, spokesperson of Sialkot police told Voicepk.net.
Priyantha Diyawadanage, Sri Lankan manager of a sports equipment manufacturing factory in Sialkot, was lynched to death by a mob on accusation of blasphemy. The videos of the lynching caused a public outcry, prompting Prime Minister Imran Khan to declare the horrific vigilante attack ‘a day of shame’ for Pakistan.
Khurram Shahzad, spokesperson of Sialkot police, said the Punjab Forensic Science Agency had conducted an audit of the CCTV footage used to identify the 85 suspects.
“Consequently, these 85 suspects were found to have placed an active role in the mob lynching of the Sri Lankan national,” the spokesperson said in response to question on how the investigators had determined that these suspects had a ‘central role’ in the horrific killing.
“There were bystanders or those trying to protect the Sri Lankan that were not involved in the lynching,” he said.
Police had lodged a first investigation report (FIR) against 800 to 900 unidentified suspects after the lynching. Over 180 people were detained in relation to the killing. Most of them were identified from CCTV footage and cell phone videos.
“The 85 suspects are on police remand from the anti-terrorism court in Gujranwala and investigators are interrogating them to get further evidence,” the spokesperson said. The forensically-audited video footage is admissible as evidence in the court, he explained.
A prosecution team is also working alongside investigators to build a strong case before the trial court, he added.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Shabbir Hussain, a senior lawyer with the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, said the Supreme Court had laid down 17 principles for admissibility of video footage as evidence in court in the judgment relating to judge Arshad Malik video scandal in 2019.
Hussain said courts in Pakistan had passed verdicts in murder cases where corroborative evidence was primarily videos. “The judgment in the Zainab murder case in Kasur was based entirely on CCTV footage and other forensic evidence as there was no eyewitness to the crime,” he pointed out.
Similarly, the court also relied on authenticated videos while convicting over 20 accused in the 2010 mob lynching in Sialkot, he added.
In his opinion, the prosecution and police investigators have to keep in mind the Supreme Court’s principles for admissibility of video footage to build a water-tight case in lynching of the Sri Lankan national in Sialkot. “Apart from forensic audit of the footage, the police also have to conduct facial recognition of suspects seen in the footage,” he said.
The Sialkot Bar Association has announced that its member lawyers would not represent the accused in the lynching case. Hussain said the trial court was bound to ensure fair representation to the accused in the lynching case. “The court will appoint state counsel for any accused who cannot afford or fails to find a lawyer to represent him in the trial on informing the judge in this regard,” Hussain added.