New Delhi: A 47-year-old US citizen, accused of blasphemy, was shot dead inside a courtroom in Pakistan Wednesday during his trial.
Tahir Naseem was reportedly shot several times in front of a judge during a hearing in a district court in Peshawar.
Naseem was a member of the Ahmadiyya sect — a minority community that is considered non-Muslim in Pakistan. The Pakistani government outlawed the community in a series of constitutional amendments and ordinances passed between 1974 and 1984.
However, according to a spokesperson of the community, Naseem had left the Ahmadiyya sect many years ago, said a report in NayaDaur, an online Pakistani news portal.
The attacker named Khalid, who was heard shouting angrily that Naseem was an “enemy of Islam”, was arrested at the scene, BBC reported.
The US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs condemned the incident Thursday and demanded “immediate action” by the Pakistan government.
“We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again,” it said in a statement that was also posted on Twitter.
We extend our condolences to the family of Tahir Naseem, the American citizen who was killed today inside a courtroom in Pakistan. We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) July 30, 2020
Charges against Naseem
Naseem was first accused of blasphemy by one Awais Malik, a madrasa student from Peshawar. He had struck a conversation with Malik online when he was living in the US.
Quoting Malik, the BBC report said he had met Naseem at a shopping mall later in Peshawar where they discussed religion, after which he filed a case accusing the latter of blasphemy. He was arrested and has been in the jail since 2018 for claiming that he was “the last prophet of Islam”.
Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws
The blasphemy laws were first enacted by the British in colonised India and expanded to Pakistan after Partition in 1947.
According to these laws, disturbing a religious assembly, trespassing on burial grounds, insulting religious beliefs or intentionally destroying a place or an object of worship will amount to punishment of one year to 10 years in jail.
The laws also state that a person charged for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad will be subjected to death or imprisonment for life.
According to data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2018.
While no one has been executed by the state, several people have been attacked after the accusations.
Since 1990, at least 77 people have been killed after being accused of blasphemy, and they include teachers, singers, lawyers and members of the persecuted Ahmadi sect.