ISLAMABAD — Thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating Islam's holy book from a police station in central Pakistan, beat him to death and then set his body on fire, a police official said Wednesday.
The incident highlighted the highly charged nature of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, under which anyone found guilty of insulting Islam's Prophet or the Quran can be sentenced to death.
Sometimes, however, people take the matter into their own hands.
A senior police officer, Mohammed Azhar Gujar, said in the incident Tuesday in Bahawalpur, a city in a deeply conservative part of central Pakistan, attackers stormed a police station where the man was being interrogated.
Gujar said the victim seemed to be mentally unstable. He was arrested after residents said he threw pages of the Quran into the street.
While the man was being questioned, some people started making announcements over mosque loudspeakers, urging residents to go to the police station and punish him.
Within hours, thousands gathered outside and demanded the man be handed over to them. Gujar said police tried to protect him, but the mob turned violent.
They burned several police vehicles and wounded seven officers before grabbing the man and dragging him into the street, where he was beaten to death and his body set on fire.
Gujar said the mob also attacked the house of an area police chief and burned his furniture and possessions.
It was unclear whether the man was Muslim, a member of Pakistan's Christian minority or belonged to another religion. His name was not released.
Pakistani Christians live in fear of being arrested under the blasphemy laws, which critics say are often misused to settle personal scores or family feuds.
Efforts to change the laws have made little headway. Last year, two prominent Pakistani political figures who spoke out against the blasphemy laws were killed in attacks that raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.
During a visit to Pakistan in May, Gabriela Knaul, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said lawyers are often reluctant to defend clients accused under the blasphemy laws because of intimidation, and judges are often pressured to convict.