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Man Shot Dead in Pakistan's Courtroom for Blasphemy

On 29th July, Tahir Ahmad Naseem was shot dead at his own trial in a courtroom in Peshawar, Pakistan.

1. In 2018, Tahir Naseem was accused of Blasphemy after he claimed to be a prophet- a clear violation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Blasphemy, in simple words, means ‘dishonoring any sacred deity or object’.

2. During the hearing, the plaintiff- a person who brought up the case, asked Naseem to recite the Kalima-e-Tayyaba, which is the root of Islam and a Muslim cannot claim his faith without reciting it aloud. Soon after, the plaintiff shot Naseem six times, killing him on-spot.

3. The plaintiff was immediately taken into custody and the body has been sent for post-mortem.

4. 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. Section 295-C, in specific, carries a mandatory death penalty.

5. Naseem belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect- a Muslim minority, but left the sect and claimed to be a prophet. However, Kayer- an Ahmadiyya community leader, said that Naseem was mentally-ill when he first claimed to be a prophet.

6. At times, blasphemy charges are brought up only to settle some old scores or get back at someone. And, these scuffles become difficult for the justice system to handle.

7. If certain people aren’t imprisoned for blasphemy, vigilante groups take matters into their own hands and resort to extrajudicial killings or mob violence.

8. Religious fanaticism or obsession towards one’s own religion has been on the rise in Pakistan for quite some time now. A survey showed that since the 1990s, sixty-five people have been victims of such mob attacks.

9. The protection of free speech, guaranteed by Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Pakistan’s Constitution is a basic feature of any democracy unless the speech in question explicitly calls for violence.

10. Criticizing or making any comment on religion is neither a call for violence nor a denial of rights for its adherents, which makes the very idea of blasphemy completely against basic human rights. Besides, the “evidence” in such cases includes sentiments, which are intangible, making the “crime” victimless.

11. In 2009, Aasia Bibi was accused of Blasphemy. She was plucking berries in a field when she came across two women and got into an argument with them. The two Muslim women refused to drink water from a cup that Aasia had touched because she was a Christian and hence, was “unclean". This resulted in Aasia insulting Prophet Muhammad.

12. Aasia was dragged out of her home, beaten by an angry mob, and arrested. In 2010, she became the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Soon, she found herself serving death row in a Pakistani prison with shackles that limited her movement. She served eight whole years in prison.

13. Aasia reached out to many political figures for help when two politicians- Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer agreed to help her. Unfortunately for Aasia, they were murdered later. In fact, Taseer was shot twenty-seven times at a point-blank range by his own bodyguard.

14. In 2018, the country’s Supreme Court overturned the earlier verdict because of a lack of evidence and allowed Asia Bibi to walk free. Within hours, demonstrators took to the streets, demanding Aasia Bibi be hanged to death. There were even calls for the judge to be killed.

15. Prime Minister Imran Khan later came to an agreement with the protesters and closed the deal. However, the movement hasn’t completely subsidized, and Aasia hopes to return from her Canadian exile to Pakistan in order to live a normal life again.

16. The diminishing voices against blasphemy laws and unjust killings in the name of religion have reiterated how the legislation leaves it open for misuse. This must be ended to prevent further turmoil and ensure that countries provide basic human rights to their citizens.

Reporter: Pranav Muralikrishna

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