Thousands of people in northwest Pakistan besieged a police station where a man accused of blasphemy had been detained in custody. When officers refused to hand over the suspect, the mob torched the facility.
Several police checkpoints were also hit in the surge of violence that broke out on Sunday evening in the Charsadda district of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, local media said. Footage of the reported attack showed a crowd witnessing a massive blaze in the distance.
The outburst of public anger had been triggered by reports that the police had arrested a man suspected of desecrating the Koran. The act is considered blasphemous under Pakistani law and can be punishable by death. In some cases, however, agitated believers refuse to wait for the justice system to take its course and resort to lynching.
The crowd, which was estimated by law enforcement agents to be 4,000- to 5,000-strong, demanded the police hand over the suspect to them. When the officers refused, the situation escalated and the officers were forced to retreat. No casualties were reported in the stand-off.
The police station was ransacked before being destroyed by fire, along with its archive of criminal records and several police vehicles parked outside. Officers also suspect that weapons from its arsenal may have been stolen.
The violence spilled over to other parts of the district, where rioters attacked four police checkpoints. There was also a sit-in protest, although local officials and community elders managed to calm the demonstrators and convince them to disperse.
The unidentified blasphemy suspect was described by the police as being mentally unstable. Officers moved the man out of the station before the attack and transferred him to a safe location, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Law Minister Fazle Shakoor Khan, who hails from Charsadda. Several media outlets reported that the suspect had been transferred from the district out of concerns for his safety.