Dozens of Pakistani men have been arrested after a mob stoned a man to death for allegedly burning copies of the Quran in a remote village in the country's east.
But a mob of hundreds of villagers snatched him away from them and beat the officers as they tried to rescue the victim. However, the mob lynched the man before the police could take action.
Reinforcements arrived at the scene and took down the man's body from a tree, witnesses said.
Munawar Gujjar, chief of Tulamba police, said the victim was identified as Mushtaq Ahmed, 41.
“The ill-fated man has been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and according to his family often went missing from home for days, begging and eating whatever he could find,” he said.
Mr Gujjar said the man's body was handed over to his family.
Police said investigators were scanning video footage to try to identify the assailants and had so far arrested about 80 men.
Police spokesman Chaudhry Imran said he and two officers were injured as they tried to rescue the victim.
The custodian of a local mosque, Mian Mohammad Ramzan, accused Ahmed of burning a copy of the Quran inside the mosque and trying to set fire to another on Saturday evening.
He said people were starting to arrive for evening prayers as he shouted at the man to stop.
Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his anguish over the incident and said he was seeking a report from Punjab’s chief minister on the police handling of the case. He said they “failed in their duty”.
“We have zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands and mob lynching will be dealt with the full severity of the law,” he said in a tweet hours after the incident.
Mr Khan also asked the Punjab police chief for a report on the actions taken against those suspected of the lynching.
The killing comes months after the lynching of a Sri Lankan manager of a sporting goods factory in Sialkot in Punjab province on December 3 who was accused by workers of blasphemy.
Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy are common in Pakistan. International and national rights groups say blasphemy accusations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone who is convicted of insulting Islam. Secular politicians have failed in attempts to amend the laws amid fierce opposition.