Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today mourns the death of Tahir Ahmad Naseem, a U.S. citizen who was shot in a courtroom in Peshawar, Pakistan on July 29, 2020. The assailant claimed to have shot Naseem because he had belonged to the Ahmadiyya faith.
“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 U.S. citizen, nonetheless,” USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore stated. “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.”
Tahir Ahmad Naseem was arrested two years ago and charged with blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code. 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 interreligious 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. In a recent policy update, USCIRF provided an overview of key issues that should be included in any binding agreement between the governments of the United States and Pakistan.