Police in northwestern Pakistan say hundreds of people demanding that officers hand over a man accused of burning the Koran have mobbed a police station, setting fire to it and six nearby check posts.
The angry mob comprising thousands ransacked the police station and vehicles late on 28 November after officers refused to hand over a man who allegedly burnt pages of the Qur’an, a spokesman for the Charsadda district police said.
The crowd of up to 5,000 people surrounded the police station in Charsadda town in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last night, also setting fire to more than 30 cars. This morning, around 2,000 people remained outside the police station burning uniforms of officers.
Police spokesman Safi Jan said that the man, whose identity remained unknown, appeared to be a drug addict.
“The mob stormed the police station asking to hand over the man to them so they could burn him alive like he burnt the Holy Koran,” district police chief, Asif Bahadur said.
Police said the suspect had been moved to a safe location.
The situation remains tense in Charsadda, where police said around 20 people had been arrested on charges of inciting violence and ransacking the police station and checkpoints.
Police sent reinforcements to the area from the nearby districts of Mardan and Nowshera.
The identity and religion of the accused have not been disclosed by police, Bahadur said.
“The motive behind burning the copy of the Holy Quran is still unknown but we are investigating.”
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.
Rights groups say the legislation is often hijacked for personal vendettas, with minorities largely the target.
A Christian couple was lynched then burnt in a kiln in Punjab in 2014 after being falsely accused of desecrating the Koran.
A former Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in Islamabad in 2011 over his call for blasphemy law reform.
The brazen killing saw Qadri feted as a hero by Islamists.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman and a labourer from central Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and was on death row until her acquittal in 2018, which prompted days of violent Islamist demonstrations.
She and her family later fled the country for Canada.
The country has frequently been paralysed in recent years by anti-blasphemy protests waged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, often linked to the publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed by a French satirical magazine.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence. In some cases, those accused have been gunned down, burned alive, or bludgeoned to death.
Critics say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are unevenly applied and frequently abused to settle personal disputes.