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Brazen killing of US citizen calls for new criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Video of the killing, widely circulated on social media, showed police holding the gunman as Naseem lay in a pool of blood on the floor just feet away. The man could be heard saying that the Prophet Muhammad asked him to kill Naseem in a dream.

“He is the enemy of Islam. . . The enemy of Pakistan, “said the gunman.

Inam Ullah Yousafzai, a lawyer who was in the courtroom, said that after killing Naseem, the gunman placed his gun on a table and surrendered to the police. Another lawyer present at the court noted how difficult it would be to bring a weapon into the building. The courthouse is heavily guarded with several security searches and checkpoints that anyone wishing to enter must go through.

The suspect was brought before a court to face possible terrorism and murder charges on Thursday.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “the alleged killer has been arrested and a special team assembled to investigate the case.”

; It promised that “the case will be dealt with in accordance with the law” and that constitutional rights and protection would be “fully enforced and enforced.”

A police report only identified the suspect as Faisal, son of Abdullah and a resident of Peshawar’s neighborhood of Gulabad.

The U.S. State Department said Naseem was a U.S. citizen and called a tweet “immediate action” in response to his killing.

Cale Brown, a State Department spokesman, said the United States had been working with Naseem’s family since his arrest in 2018 and warned senior Pakistani officials about his case “to prevent the kind of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred,” according to a statement. . Brown said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often abused and demanded that they be reformed.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been the target of harsh criticism from international human rights groups who have called for their repeal. Human Rights Watch has reported that the laws “provide a pretext for violence against religious minorities as well as arbitrary arrests and prosecutions.”

Anyone found guilty of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death, and accusations of blasphemy have sparked violent uprisings. Allegations of blasphemy have led to extrajudicial killings, rights groups say. But while many inmates are on the verge of blasphemy in Pakistan, the country has never sentenced to death in these cases.

Most of those accused of blasphemy, like Naseem, belong to the Ahmadia minority group, which is considered by many Muslims in Pakistan to be heretics.

Hours after the news of Naseem’s killing was reported by local media, a hashtag trend began on social media praising the gunman as a hero. Many of those who promote the hashtag described themselves as Taliban sympathizers.

A relative of Naseem’s ex-wife in Pakistan said that while living outside Peshawar, he survived several Taliban assassination attempts.

Relative Amjad Ali said Naseem’s faith quickly became controversial in the small village he lived in before moving to the United States. Naseem’s wife divorced him in 2008 shortly after their marriage, and Naseem’s relatives began receiving death threats, eventually forcing them to sell their property and travel, according to Ali.

“Now he has no one in the village,” Ali said.

In one of Pakistan’s most recent high-profile blasphemy cases, an illiterate woman, Asia Bibi, was indicted and jailed for eight years before being acquitted and eventually seeking asylum in Canada last year. Her release sparked violent riots, and she continued to receive death threats from Islamist extremists, even after fleeing to Canada.

George reported from Kabul.

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