A mob in eastern Pakistan stormed a police station on Saturday, snatched a Muslim man accused of blasphemy from custody and lynched him, in the country’s latest religion-linked killing.

Muhammad Waris, in his mid-30s, was in police custody in Nankana Sahib, in Punjab province, for desecrating pages of the Qur’an.

The angry mob stormed the police station using a wooden ladder, dragged him out and beat him to death.

There have been a number of cases in Muslim-majority Pakistan of angry mob killings of people accused of blasphemy, the most high-profile among them the lynching of a Sri Lankan citizen in 2021.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where even false allegations can stir violence. Under Pakistani law, charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty.

Video of the incident posted on social media showed hundreds of young people surrounding a police station. There was footage of people dragging a man by his legs in the street, stripping him naked and beating him with metal rods and sticks.

International and Pakistani rights groups say blasphemy accusations are mostly used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal vendettas.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a non-governmental rights group, raised concerns. “HRCP is deeply shocked by the brutal lynching of a man by a charged mob in Nankana Sahib, after allegations of blasphemy. This is yet another failure of the state to prevent mob ‘justice’. Lip service and weak measures against law enforcers give the state the appearance of a helpless observer, not a protector of the citizens lives and property.”

Last week, HRCP released a report titled A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021-22, showing alarm over rising blasphemy issues.

“The threshold of evidence regarding blasphemy accusations must be raised in the country. It must be ensured that the laws in question are not weaponised by people to settle personal vendettas, as is so often the case,” the group said.

The report said at least 585 cases of blasphemy were registered by the police across Pakistan, most of them in Punjab province.

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