Pakistan Forms Team To Probe Blasphemy Trial Killing Of U.S. Citizen

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Pakistan has formed a special team to investigate the killing of a Pakistani-American, who was shot dead inside a courtroom during his controversial blasphemy trial.

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“A special team has been constituted to investigate the case,” the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday after the U.S. State Department called for justice for the American citizen.

The intellectually disabled Pakistani-American man was shot on Wednesday in the north-western city of Peshawar as a hearing on blasphemy charges against him was under way.

The man, identified as Tahir Naseem from Illinois, had been in a Pakistani jail since 2018 on blasphemy charges after he claimed to be a prophet.

The State Department had urged Pakistan to pursue reforms “that will prevent such shameful tragedy again.”

“Naseem had been lured to Pakistan by individuals, who then used Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to entrap him,” State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown said, without giving details.

“We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often abused blasphemy laws and its court system,” Brown added.

The alleged killer, a young man in his early 20s, was arrested and remanded in police custody by an anti-terrorism court on Thursday.

He told police that the Muslim prophet Mohammed appeared in his dream and ordered him to kill the man because he was the follower of the Ahmadiya faith, investigation officer Ijaz Ahmed told dpa.

Followers of persecuted Ahmadiya community insist they are Muslims but were declared a minority by Pakistan’s parliament in 1974 due to their thoughts on the finality of Mohammed’s prophethood.

According to belief of orthodox Muslims, there can be no prophet after Mohammed.

Thousands of Muslim men rallied in Peshawar on Friday in support of the attacker while leading politicians including some from the party of Prime Minister Imran Khan cheered for him online.

Right activists called the support for a person who had killed in the name of Islam as an example of the growing trend of bigotry and shrinking space for dissent in religious issues.

“The state and the society should rise against it before it sinks all of us,” activist Taimur Kamal said from Peshawar.

Death is the maximum sentence under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which were introduced by former military ruler Ziaul Haq in 1980s.

Pakistani courts rarely grant bail to people accused of blasphemy, in most cases due to pressures by powerful Muslim clerics.

Around 75 people facing blasphemy charges have been killed since 1980s by individuals or angry mobs even before their trials were concluded in courts.

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