In Pakistan, a man accused of blasphemy was shot dead in a courtroom. His killer was hailed as a hero.
Extrajudicial killings of people accused of blasphemy aren't uncommon in Pakistan
Posted 8 August 2020 14:03 GMT
Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels. Used under a Pexels License.
A 57-year-old man was shot dead in a Peshawar courtroom as he was being trialed for blasphemy on July 29. The killer, 24, was arrested immediately — it's unclear how he managed to bypass the court's security with a fire weapon.
Tahir Ahmad Naseem was a Pakistani-American citizen who used to post videos online claiming he was some sort of prophet. In 2018, he was arrested by Peshawar police and charged with multiple counts of blasphemy after a madrassa student lodged complaints against him.
The student presented to the authorities private online conversations in which Naseem claimed to be a prophet of Islam, which is a violation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God and that any subsequent claim of prophethood is heresy.
Naseem was facing the death penalty in the trial for “defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad”.
Soon after the incident, people in the courtroom were seen pulling out their phones to take photos and videos of the victim. A video showing Tahir's body lying on a bench went viral on Pakistani social media. Another viral video showed the killer in police custody saying that Prophet Muhammad had appeared in his dreams and told him to kill Naseem.
Journalist Naila Inayat shared photos of Tahir laying dead in the courtroom after being shot:
Initially, some claimed that Naseem belonged to the Ahmadiyya community, which has faced persecution and hate campaigns since a Constitutional Amendment declared its members to be non-Muslim in 1974. An Ahmadiyya community spokesperson tweeted that Naseem had left that group many years previously:
On July 31, thousands of people rallied in Peshawar in support of the killer. They carried placards praising the act and demanded his release from jail, alleging that the government is “too slow” in prosecuting blasphemy cases.
Ihsan Tipu, a Journalist covering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for The New York Times, tweeted a video of the rally that was held in support of the killer:
Pakistani celebrities such as actor Shahroz Sabzwari publicly praised the killer, and hashtags in his support also went viral. The senior leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam – Fazl (JUI-F), Mufti Kifayatullah, tweeted in support of Khalid:
As the killer was taken to custody, lawyers and police officers posed for selfies with him.
This is not the first time an incident of this nature has taken place in Pakistan. On January 4, 2011, the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards in Islamabad after he expressed negative views of the blasphemy laws.
Even though no one has been formally executed under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, since 1990 at least 77 people have been extrajudicially killed in connection with those accusations, according to a tally by Al Jazeera. Since 1987, over 1,500 people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, according to the New York Times.
In Pakistan's polarized society, such extremist views are accepted, while those who disagree avoid speaking for fear of harassment, especially online.
Still, many went public to condemn the murder:
An editorial in the online portal ProperGaanda said:
It is high time Pakistanis stop hailing the murderer as a hero and recognize him for what he was. That will be the first step in cultivating an atmosphere wherein potential extrajudicial murderers think twice before breaking the law and imposing their judgements on whether or not a human has the right to live.