Man shot dead for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan courtroom

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A man accused of blasphemy for claiming that he was a prophet has been shot dead in a courtroom in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, police officials say, the latest violence associated with Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.

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Tahir Ahmad Naseem was shot six times during a hearing in his case at a district court on Wednesday, police official Ijaz Ahmed told Al Jazeera.

“The culprit accepts responsibility for killing him, and says that he killed him for having committed blasphemy,” said police official Ahmed. “[The suspect] has been arrested from the scene.”

Naseem had been in police custody since 2018 when he was accused of having committed blasphemy by claiming to be a prophet – a violation of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws that can carry the death penalty for certain offences.

Naseem was accused of having violated sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistani penal code, which deal with blasphemy against Islam, criminalising, among other things, “defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad”.

The last offence carries a mandatory death penalty.

Blasphemy killings

While no one has yet been executed under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, extrajudicial murders and mob violence have become increasingly common in recent years. Since 1990, at least 77 people have been killed in connection with the accusation, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

Those killed include people accused of blasphemy, their family members, and lawyers and judges who have acquitted people accused of the crime.

Others killed in recent years include singers, teachers deemed to be advocating “un-Islamic” practices, and members of the persecuted Ahmadi sect.

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In 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court passed a landmark verdict in the country’s most high-profile blasphemy case, acquitting Christian woman Aasia Bibi after she had spent nine years on death row.

The move angered the country’s far-right religious parties, leading to widespread protests led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which has frequently advocated for violence against those accused of blasphemy.

Last week, the provincial assembly in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, passed a controversial law on religious issues, giving wide-ranging powers to the government to censor any published material based on vague guidelines of violating religious beliefs.

The law, widely criticised by rights groups, was placed under review on Monday.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

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