LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s police arrested at least 50 suspects in the kidnapping and lynching of a man already detained on charges of blasphemy, officials said Monday.
A mob of hundreds of enraged Muslims descended on the police station in the Nankana district of eastern Punjab province on Saturday. Members of the mob had been alerted that a man identified only as Waris desecrated a copy of Islam’s holy book, the Quran.
According to the district police chief, Babar Sarfraz Alpa, the mob had accused Waris of pasting images of himself, his wife and a knife on pages of the book, displaying and throwing them in the streets.
Charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty under Pakistani law.
Officials said the mob stormed the Warburton police station on Saturday. Some used a wooden ladder to climb a wall and open the main gate, allowing the mob to enter. By the time police reinforcement could reach the scene to save the prisoner’s life, the mob had already lynched him and were about to burn his body. Police dispersed the crowd.
On Monday, Alpa said police have arrested at least 50 people for participating in the attack. He said more raids are underway to arrest other alleged participants.
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.
The slain man, Waris, was arrested in 2019 on a blasphemy charge and was in prison until mid-2022.
Police say Waris again desecrated the Quran, and that some witnesses grabbed and beat him. Police took Waris into custody. But the mob later attacked the police station and killed him, saying they were punishing him for insulting the Quran.
A statement said authorities have sacked the police station chief and the area deputy superintendent for negligence in failing to prevent the attack.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this story from Islamabad