Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 47, was accused of blasphemy in 2018 in Pakistan for allegedly claiming to be a prophet, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Mr. Naseem, a U.S. citizen, was shot in a courtroom at the Peshawar Judicial Complex by a local 19-year-old resident. It is not clear how he managed to bring a weapon into the court premises.
A video of the gunman was shared widely on social media. While being held by police he is heard saying that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told him in a dream to kill Mr. Naseem. Police officer Ijaz Ahmed has given a statement to clarify the progress of the case.
“The culprit accepts responsibility for killing him and says that he killed him for having committed blasphemy,” said police official Ahmed. “[The suspect] has been arrested from the scene.”
Mr. Naseem was born into the Ahmadiyya sect, according to a community spokesperson. Following the Second Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution in 1974, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are declared non-Muslims by the Government of Pakistan. They are no strangers to persecution.
The community spokesperson however added that Mr. Naseem had left the sect and had been exhibiting signs of being mentally ill. In YouTube videos uploaded by Mr. Naseem, he claimed to be a messiah.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, with rumors of the crime spurring vigilantes and mobs to take lethal action against supposed perpetrators.
Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. While prominent politicians have acknowledged the harm that blasphemy laws have done, hard-line religious parties continue to mount pressure against any that aim to repeal them.
In 2011, a Punjabi governor was murdered by his own guard for defending a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. In 2018 Bibi was acquitted after spending nine years on death row and subsequently fled the country. Islamic extremists send her death threats to this day.
A prominent Islamic scholar, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, publicly attacked the laws during the Bibi case, warning that a failure to repeal them will only strengthen extremists in the country.
“The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people.”
An ally of Mr. Ghamidi, Dr. Farooq Khan, was assassinated for speaking out publicly on the same issue.
Mr. Ghamidi himself had to flee the country following a foiled bomb plot against his home. Speaking to the Guardian in Malaysia, he expressed worries over how mob killings embolden the religious right and thus enable future vigilantism against those who speak out.
“It became impossible to live there,” he said.