KEY POINTS

  • U.S. citizen Tahir Naseem was shot multiple times during an arraignment hearing for charges of blasphemy in Peshawar, Pakistan
  • The U.S. State Department called on the Pakistani government to address its blaspemy laws, which carry sentences of death or life in prison 
  • Blasphemy has been a consistent source of violence in Pakistan, with two notable political figures being killed for support Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi's fight to overturn her blasphemy conviction

Pakistani protesters called for the release of the shooter who killed a U.S. citizen on trial for blasphemy for allegedly claiming to be a prophet.

Tahir Ahmed Naseem, 47, was shot during an arraignment hearing on Wednesday in Peshawar, Pakistan. The shooter, whose name was not released, walked in shot Naseem multiple times at close range in plain sight of the court’s judge and everyone else in attendance. He was immediately arrested and has been in police custody since Friday.

The U.S. State Department offered its condolences to Naseem’s family in a press release Thursday and called on Pakistani officials to address their blasphemy laws.

“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 department said in the press release.

“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.”

Naseem had been in Pakistani custody since 2018.

He was contacted by someone claiming to be a student at a Pakistani Islamic school on Facebook.  Naseem told the student he was a messiah sent from God, and agreed to meet the student in Peshawar. He was arrested shortly after arriving on blasphemy charges punishable by death or life in prison if convicted.

Accusations of blasphemy have been one of the most consistent sources of violence within Pakistan. The case of Asia Bibi is among the more recent and infamous examples of such violence.

Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was arrested on charges of blasphemy in 2009 following an alleged argument with a co-worker. She was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death, drawing massive international coverage and condemnation.

One of her supporters in Pakistan, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, was killed by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in January 2011. Qadri surrendered to authorities and was subsequently executed for the killing though many favoring Bibi’s execution called him a martyr.

Bibi appealed the death sentence several times between 2014 and 2018 before the Pakistani Supreme Court ultimately overturned her conviction in October 2018. Political and religious leader Maulana Sami ul Haq was assassinated for supporting Bibi’s appeals.

Bibi was held in Pakistan under armed guard until May 2019 when she left for Canada.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Muslim Pakistan Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Muslim Pakistan Photo: AFP / AAMIR QURESHI