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US citizen shot dead in a Peshawar courtroom for being an Ahmadi

US citizen shot dead in a Peshawar courtroom

For the minorities in Pakistan, staying alive is a bigger challenge than obtaining justice. In the process, there's also always the big danger of getting murdered right inside a courtroom too. Like it happened with Tahir Ahmad Naseem, a US citizen who was shot dead in a Peshawar courtroom, earlier this week.

Naseem, who belonged to the Ahmadiyya faith, was arrested two years ago and charged with blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code. It wasn't for the first time that an Ahmadi Muslim has been killed in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it may not be the last as Pakistani Ahmadiyyas remain one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. "Pakistan's blasphemy laws are indefensible to begin with but it is outrageous beyond belief that the Pakistani government was incapable of keeping an individual from being murdered within a court of law for his faith, and a US citizen, nonetheless.

Pakistan must protect religious minorities, including individuals accused of blasphemy, in order to prevent such unimaginable tragedies. The authorities must take immediate action to bring Mr. Nassem's killer to justice," said Johnnie Moore, Commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in a statement yesterday. Blasphemy cases in Pakistan are extremely controversial and have led to riots and vigilante justice.

As highlighted in a USCIRF policy update about Pakistan’s blasphemy law, USCIRF is aware of nearly 80 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, half of whom face life imprisonment or the death penalty. "As USCIRF has noted countless times, Pakistan's blasphemy law inflames inter-religious tensions and too often leads to violence," noted USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. "We urge the State Department to enter into a binding agreement with the Pakistani government that includes the repeal of blasphemy provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code."

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the State Department redesignate Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern," or CPC, in part because of the "systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws," which often target religious minority communities. According to Al Jazeera, at least 77 people have been killed in Pakistan in connection with blasphemy accusations since 1990. "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," reported the channel's website. Although Ahmadis identify themselves as Muslims, an amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 1974 declared the Ahmadis as non-Muslims. This provision is still included in the current Constitution. The civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Ahmadiyya minority have progressively been negated on account of doctrinal differences with the majority community.

As India Narrative had reported earlier, Ahmadis continue to be tortured in Pakistan. A religious literacy project by the Harvard Divinity School delves deep into the issue of why the community is hated so much in Pakistan: "The Ahmadiyya movement, founded in British India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1836-1906), is regarded as heterodox by the majority of Sunni and Shi'a Pakistanis. Ahmadiyya Muslims have been marginalized, discriminated against in various ways, and sometimes violently oppressed.

After decades of agitation on the part of the Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups, Ahmadis were categorized as a non-Muslim minority in national law in 1974 — a view held by the majority of Pakistanis today — and constitutional reforms in 1973 barred an Ahmadi from holding the presidency. "As a result of these laws, Pakistani police have destroyed Ahmadi copies of and commentaries on the Qur'an, banned the profession of faith (kalima) on Ahmadi gravestones, prohibited the construction of Ahmadi mosques, and even forbade the use of the term masjid by an Ahmadi, among other prohibitions, the project study says.

“Ahmadi Muslims have also been targeted with violence by groups such as the Pakistani Taliban. Nonetheless, individual Ahmadis and Ahmadi organizations are active in educational, missionary, and community efforts worldwide." The United Nations has also repeatedly expressed its concern over Pakistan's discriminatory measures leading to persecution of Ahmadis. "We are deeply concerned about increased acts of persecution of Ahmadis and about the discriminatory provisions against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan’s domestic law.

These measures contribute to acts of violence against Ahmadis based only on religious differences. Stipulating that Ahmadiyya citizens must register on a separate electoral roll for non-Muslims can have a serious impact on the level of participation of the Ahmadiyya minority in the political process," UN experts have emphasized.