File photo shows former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot dead in January last year by one of his police bodyguards for opposing the blasphemy law.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani police official says thousands of people beat a man to death, and burned his corpse after he was accused of desecrating the holy Quran.

A senior police officer Mohammed Azhar Gujar said that in the incident on Tuesday in the Ahmedpur East area of Punjab’s Bahawalpur district, attackers stormed a police station where the man was being interrogated.

He 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.

On June 17, a crowd attempted to lynch a blasphemy suspect as they tried to storm into the police station where he was held. A group of lawyers attempted to attack the same suspect the next day following his production in court but policemen successfully foiled both attacks.

In Quetta last month, a man was killed as a mob attacked a police station holding a “mentally retarded” man also suspected of desecrating the holy book.

Former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January last year by one of his police bodyguards for opposing the blasphemy law.

The incident highlighted the highly charged nature of the country's blasphemy laws, under which anyone found guilty of insulting the prophet or the Quran can be sentenced to death.   Sometimes, however, people take the matter into their own hands.

During a visit to Pakistan in May, Gabriela Knaul, the UN'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.

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