US urges Pakistan to act after American blasphemy accused shot dead in Peshawar court

Published July 30, 2020
A police officer stands outside the Khyber Medical College (KMC) morgue in Peshawar where the deceased's body was taken, July 29. — Reuters
A police officer stands outside the Khyber Medical College (KMC) morgue in Peshawar where the deceased's body was taken, July 29. — Reuters

The United States urged Pakistan on Thursday to take action over the killing of an American national in a crowded courtroom in Peshawar as he faced trial for blasphemy.

Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 57, was seated in the court of an additional sessions judge on Wednesday after arguments in his case, awaiting to be shifted to prison, when he was shot multiple times at close range.

“We extend our condolences to the family of Tahir Naseem, the American citizen who was killed today inside a courtroom in Pakistan,” the US State Department said in a tweet.

“We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.”

As Naseem's arraignment began before the judge, a young man in the room pulled out a handgun and shot him in the head, officials and witnesses said. The 19-year-old shooter was arrested on the spot and the pistol used in the offence was seized.

Soon after the incident, a video went viral on social media showing the deceased lying on a court bench with a pool of blood underneath. The video also showed the suspect in police custody telling people that the deceased was a blasphemer.

Police were interrogating the suspect to ascertain how he carried a pistol into the highly guarded Peshawar Judicial Complex and whether anyone had motivated him into committing the offence. A first information report (FIR) was registered against him at the East Cantt Police Station under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Section 15 of the Arms Act.

The deceased had recently filed an application in the court, requesting that he be permitted to recite Kalima Tayyaba so as to show that he was a Muslim and did not belong to the Ahmadiya community. Following the arguments by the prosecution and defence on the application, Judge Syed Shaukatullah Shah had adjourned the hearing until October 12.

Sources in contact with Naseem's family told Dawn he had been residing in the US with his family and visited Pakistan in 2018 after he got in touch with some persons on social media who asked him to return to his country to propagate his faith.

The case against the deceased was registered at the Sarband Police Station on April 25, 2018, under Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295-A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class), 295-B (defiling Holy Quran), 295-C (derogatory remarks in respect of Holy Prophet) and 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings) of the PPC.

The complainant in that case was Malik Owais, a resident of Nowshera, who was a student of a religious seminary in Islamabad.

Naseem was indicted on February 4, 2019, under sections 153-A, 295-A and 298 of the PPC, whereas the charge sheet did not include Sections 295-B and 295-C.

The deceased had denied the charges and decided to stand trial.

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