A GUNMAN entered a court in city of Peshawar on Wednesday, accused Tahir Ahmed Naseem, above, of being ‘an enemy of religion’ and shot him dead.
The death of Naseem, a US citizen who was trial for “blasphemy’ in Pakistan, has once again thrown Pakistan’s draconian law into the spotlight, and drawn fierce criticism from the US State Department.
A statement from the department said that Naseem had been:
Lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to entrap him.
It added that officials were “shocked, saddened, and outraged” by Naseem’s death, the latest act of violence connected to the Islamic country’s controversial legislation.
The State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a separate statement posted online yesterday (Thursday):
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.
According to a spokesperson for Peshawar police, the alleged killer – identified as Khalid Khan – told Naseem that he was an “enemy of religion” and deserved to be killed before opening fire.
Police are investigating how the suspect was able to enter the court room with a loaded weapon. Security guards are typically stationed outside court buildings and police officers guard individual court rooms.
Charges were brought against Naseem by teenage Madrasa student, Awais Malik, who had struck up a conversation with Naseem online while the former was still in the US. The duo later met and discussed their views on religion. Malik then filed the blasphemy case, alleging that Naseem had claimed to be a prophet.
Guns are difficult to obtain in Pakistan – civilians cannot purchase a weapon or carry one without a valid licence. Members of the public are also typically not allowed into local court rooms, such as the one where Naseem was shot.
International human rights groups have widely condemned blasphemy legislation law, which critics allege is used disproportionately against minority religious groups and to go after journalists critical of the Pakistani religious establishment.
According to a country-specific report by non-profit group Human Rights Watch last year, at least 17 people remain on death row over blasphemy allegations. Most are members of religious minorities.
Violence against those who criticise the blasphemy law has had a “chilling effect” on efforts to reform the legislation, HRW said.
There are also fears that hardline Islamist groups may end up hailing Naseem’s attacker as a hero, as they have done in the past to killers of those connected with blasphemy charges.
In 2010, Christian mother-of-five Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. The following year, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by his own bodyguard for voicing support for Bibi and for condemning the country’s stringent blasphemy laws. Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi remains free as Supreme Court says it will not review her case
His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, immediately surrendered to police and was later executed. But to many hardline Islamists, Qadri was a martyr, and his grave became a shrine for those supporting Asia Bibi’s death sentence.