Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

By Mushtaq Ali

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have begun an investigation to identify and arrest members of a mob that killed a local tourist accused of blasphemy, after they ransacked a police station holding him in protective custody, officials said on Friday.

A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Koran. They set the police station in the country's northwest ablaze and injured eight policemen, Malankand division's regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur told Reuters.

"After initially rescuing the man from a crowd, the police took him to the station in Madyan, but announcements from mosque loud speakers asked locals to come out," Gandapur said, after which the mob stormed the station.

Lynchings are common in Pakistan, an Islamic republic where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty.

Legal processes are frequently preceded by vigilante action based on rumours or complaints and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a report on Pakistan in December that in many cases the perpetrators operate with impunity.

Graphic videos of the latest incident, verified to Reuters by the police, showed a frenzied mob dragging a naked and bloodied body through the streets, and then setting it on fire. The footage went viral on social media and sparked outcry amongst Pakistani users.

Gandapur said the situation was under control and a case registered against the organisers of the mob. He added the man had been visiting the Swat Valley, a popular tourist destination, for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha.

Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Koran and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.

In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.

(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Sharon Singleton)