A man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has been shot dead in a courtroom during his trial in the northern city of Peshawar.
He had been facing charges for allegedly claiming to be a prophet.
Blasphemy is legally punishable by death. No-one has been executed for it by the state but accusations can often lead to violent attacks.
The victim, Tahir Ahmad Naseem, was accused of blasphemy in 2018 by a teenager.
He was killed at a trial hearing on Wednesday morning. Video shared on social media shows his body slumped over the court’s seats.
His attacker was arrested at the scene. Another video shows him in handcuffs, shouting angrily that his victim was an “enemy of Islam”.
Mr Naseem was first accused of blasphemy by Awais Malik, a madrassa student from Peshawar. Mr Naseem had struck up an online conversation with him whilst living in the United States.
Mr Malik told the BBC he had then met Mr Naseem in a shopping mall in Peshawar to discuss his views on religion, after which he filed a case against him with the police.
He said he had not been present at court, and had no knowledge of the shooting. The suspect arrested for the killing has been named as Khalid. It is not clear how he managed to bring a weapon into the court premises.
Mr Naseem was born into the persecuted Ahmadi sect, according to a spokesman for the community. But he added that he had left the sect and claimed to be a prophet himself.
The community leader suggested Mr Naseem had been mentally ill – he had uploaded videos to YouTube claiming to be a messiah.
Human rights groups say Pakistan’s hardline blasphemy laws disproportionately target minority communities and encourage vigilante attacks. Dozens of people accused of being blasphemers have been killed by angry mobs or militants in recent years.
In an unrelated development, a hashtag campaign accusing a user of committing blasphemy has been trending on Twitter in the country.
But other users, concerned about the individual’s safety, have been actively trying to drown out the accusations, using a separate hashtag -#btsarmypakistan – a reference to fans of the extremely popular Korean pop group BTS.
One of those involved in the counter-trend told the BBC it was an attempt to “resist right-wing trolls taking over the internet and possibly killing someone in the process”.
Hashtags related to BTS were also used during recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US to drown out racist online counter-campaigns.
Tahir Naseem, who accused of Blasphemy, belongs to the Ahmadiyya community was shot dead inside the Peshawar court in front of the judge and police and the man who shot him is now considered as a hero.
The shooting of Tahir Ahmad Naseem drew strong U.S. condemnation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are often used to persecute and intimidate religious minorities.
The United States urged Pakistan on Thursday to overhaul the country’s harsh blasphemy laws a day after an American citizen accused of violating them was fatally shot in a courtroom.
The brazen killing has brought into sharp focus Pakistan’s much-maligned blasphemy laws, which critics say are often used to persecute and intimidate members of religious minorities.
The American, Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 57, was on trial in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on charges that he had claimed to be a prophet. Mr. Naseem was shot six times on Wednesday by a young man whom the authorities identified only as Faisal, 19, a local resident.
The killing, in a courtroom at the Peshawar Judicial Complex, drew strong condemnation from the U.S. government.
“We extend our condolences to the family of Tahir Naseem, the American citizen who was killed today inside a courtroom in Pakistan,” the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a Twitter post on Thursday. “We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.”
Mr. Naseem was accused of blasphemy in 2018 on charges that carried penalties ranging from fines to death.
He had been a member of the Ahmadi sect, which has been declared heretical under the Pakistani Constitution and whose members face repeated persecution. However, representatives said Mr. Naseem had left the sect and had claimed to be the messiah and a prophet.
Blasphemy is a highly combustible and sensitive subject in Pakistan, with emotions flaring over mere rumors that Islam has been insulted. The government has never executed anyone under blasphemy laws, but people accused of it are often killed by mobs even before the police can take action, rights groups say.
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Soon after the killing of Mr. Naseem, a video of the gunman was widely shared on social media. It showed him sitting on a courtroom bench while being held by police officers, and he is heard saying the Prophet Muhammad told him in a dream to kill Mr. Naseem.
“He is an enemy of Islam,” the gunman is heard saying of Mr. Naseem. “He is an enemy of Pakistan.”
Police officials said they were investigating how the attacker managed to bring a gun inside the high-security court compound.
Rights activists and rights groups have long campaigned against the blasphemy laws, saying they are used to oppress religious minorities and to settle personal feuds.
But hard-line Islamic religious parties have bitterly opposed moves to amend the laws. Mainstream political leaders acknowledge the misuse of the blasphemy laws, but have mostly caved in to the pressures by religious parties not to change them and have dithered in taking a public stand against them.
In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, a prominent politician who was then the governor of Punjab Province, had campaigned to change the blasphemy laws, but was fatally shot by his police guard.
Mr. Taseer had been campaigning for the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death and imprisoned for eight years after being accused of blasphemy. The Supreme Court overturned her conviction in 2018, and she now lives in Canada.
The killing of Mr. Taseer was a chilling reminder of the dangers that outspoken secular politicians face in a deeply conservative and religious Pakistani society.
Muslim teanagers are threatening, insulting a Christian man, asking him to deney his faith and become a muslim. Almost every Non-Muslim have to face this situation once or more. Due to such societal behavior every Non-Muslims have psychological problems, they are not normal anymore.