LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Hundreds of Muslims descended on a police station in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province Saturday, snatched a blasphemy suspect from his cell and took him outside and lynched him, police said.
Senior police officer Babar Sarfaraz Alpa said a man identified only as Waris had been in police custody for desecrating pages of a copy of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. He said Waris pasted images of himself, his wife and a knife on several pages of the book, displayed them and threw them about in the rural district of Nankana.
Alpa said an enraged mob of hundreds stormed the Warburton police station where some protesters used a wooden ladder to climb a wall and opened the main gate for the angry mob.
Alpa said the group ransacked the entire police station and took Waris from his cell.
“By the time police reinforcement could reach the scene the mob lynched the man and were about to burn his body. But police with the help of saner people in the area foiled their attempt,” he said.
Charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty under Pakistani law.
International and Pakistani rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. Pakistan’s government has long been under pressure to change the country’s blasphemy laws, something the Islamists strongly resist.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the incident and asked the Punjab police chief to take action against officers who failed to protect the suspect while in custody.
Alpa said Waris was arrested in 2019 on a previous blasphemy charge and was in prison until mid-2022.
He said Waris again desecrated the Quran on Saturday morning and people who saw it grabbed him and started beating him. However, police rescued Waris and took him into custody.
Alpa said the lynching of Waris would be investigated.
Usman Anwar, the Punjab police chief, suspended the police station chief and the area deputy superintendent for negligence in duty and failing to prevent the attack on the police station as well as the killing of the suspect.
In December 2021, a group lynched the Sri Lankan manager of a sports equipment factory in Punjab who they accused of blasphemy.