Tahir Ahmad Naseem, a U.S. citizen in Pakistan facing accusations of blasphemy against Islam, was shot and killed in a Peshawar courtroom Wednesday morning.
Naseem was originally taken into custody back in 2018 after he was accused of claiming to be a prophet, which is considered a serious crime under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, according to The Washington Post.
Lawyer Saeed Zaher was in the building when he heard the shot go off. He then rushed to the scene. When he arrived, he claimed that Naseem appeared to have been shot in the head once, the New York Post reported.
“I was sitting on my seat in the office around 11:30 when I heard the firing,” Zaher said. “The killer was caught by the police and the body was lying on a bench within the courtroom.”
What was unsettling to Zaher is how the gun used to kill Naseem made it past security.
“A person entering with a pistol and murdering someone within a courtroom is very disturbing,” he said.
Naseem was shot six times, Fox News reported.
This is not the first death to occur in Pakistan based on blasphemy claims.
In 2019, Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman, was released after being imprisoned and sentenced to death for blasphemy for eight years, according to The Washington Post.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a series of tweets on Thursday demanding justice for Naseem and immediate action from Pakistan:
USCIRF Cmmr @JohnnieM: “#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.” (2/2) https://t.co/82WBT9tSOV
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) July 30, 2020
Anurima Bhargava, the Commission’s vice chair, asked the State Department to come to an agreement with Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy provisions under the Pakistan penal code.
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) July 30, 2020
The State Department issued a statement on Naseem’s death Thursday.
“We are shocked, saddened, and outraged that American citizen Tahir Naseem was killed yesterday inside a Pakistani courtroom. Mr. Naseem had been lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to entrap him,” the statement read.
“The U.S. Government has been providing consular assistance to Mr. Naseem and his family since his detention in 2018 and has called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case to prevent the type of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred.
“We grieve with the family of Mr. Naseem. We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses to occur, and to ensure that the suspect is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Ibn Abdur Rehman, a veteran activist and honorary spokesman for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was also among those outraged by the current silence from Pakistan’s government.
“Religious fanaticism is becoming unbearable in Pakistan,” Rehman said in a statement to The Guardian. “People are being killed in the name of religion. There is no check and balance. The government is clearly silent on this matter. This silence makes the government the culprit.”
There has been no comment from the Pakistani government to date.
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