A US Citizen who was on trial for blasphemy has been shot dead in a courtroom in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
It was not immediately clear how the young assailant, identified as Khalid Khan, managed to get into the court on July 29 amid tight security. The attacker was subsequently arrested.
The suspect told police the prophet Muhammad had ordered him to kill the man standing trial, Tahir Nasim, because he had belonged to the Ahmadi faith.
Who are Ahmadis?
Ahmadis, a 4-million-strong minority group in Pakistan, have faced death, threats, intimidation and a sustained hate campaign for decades.
Ahmadis insist they follow Islam. However, Pakistan declared the group non-Muslim in 1974 for regarding their sect’s founder, Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet. Orthodox Islam holds there can be no prophets after Muhammad.
The Controversial Blasphemy Law in Pakistan
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries an automatic death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting God, Islam, or other religious figures.
Crowds and individuals in Pakistan often take the law into their own hands.
While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, even the mere accusation can cause riots. Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy.
Bibi was acquitted after spending eight years on death row in a case that drew international attention. Faced with death threats from Islamic radicals upon her release, she flew to Canada to join her daughters last year.
In December, a Muslim professor in Pakistan was also sentenced to death after being convicted of blasphemy.
A court in Multan found Junaid Hafeez, who had been held for six years awaiting trial, guilty of spreading anti-Islamic ideas.
Hafeez’s lawyer said his client was wrongly convicted and he would appeal the verdict.
USCIRF’s Official Response
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today mourns the death of Tahir Ahmad Naseem, a U.S. citizen who was shot in a courtroom in Peshawar, Pakistan on July 29, 2020. The assailant claimed to have shot Naseem because he had belonged to the Ahmadiyya faith.
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are indefensible to begin with but it is outrageous beyond belief that the Pakistani government was incapable of keeping an individual from being murdered within a court of law for his faith, and a U.S. citizen, nonetheless,” USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore stated. “Pakistan must protect religious minorities, including individuals accused of blasphemy, in order to prevent such unimaginable tragedies. The authorities must take immediate action to bring Mr. Nassem’s killer to justice.”
Tahir Ahmad Naseem was arrested two years ago and charged with blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code. Blasphemy cases in Pakistan are extremely controversial and have led to riots and vigilante justice. As highlighted in a USCIRF policy update about Pakistan’s blasphemy law, USCIRF is aware of nearly 80 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, half of whom face life imprisonment or the death penalty.
“As USCIRF has noted countless times, Pakistan’s blasphemy law inflames interreligious tensions and too often leads to violence,” noted USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. “We urge the State Department to enter into a binding agreement with the Pakistani government that includes the repeal of blasphemy provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code.”
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the State Department redesignate Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, in part because of the “systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws,” which often target religious minority communities. In a recent policy update, USCIRF provided an overview of key issues that should be included in any binding agreement between the governments of the United States and Pakistan.
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