Tahir Naseem (Twitter)

Expressing shock and outrage at the killing of American citizen Tahir Naseem inside a courtroom in Pakistan, the US has urged Islamabad to immediately reform its “often-abused” blasphemy laws and bring the culprit to justice.

Naseem, 57, accused of blasphemy, was shot multiple times at close range inside Peshawar’s Judicial Complex on Wednesday as he awaited to be shifted to prison. He died on the spot.

The attacker was arrested on the spot and the pistol used in the killing was seized.

“We are shocked, saddened, and outraged that American citizen Tahir Naseem was killed yesterday inside a Pakistani courtroom. Mr Naseem had been lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan”s blasphemy laws to entrap him,” said Cale Brown, Principal Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department.

The US government has been providing consular assistance to Naseem and his family since his detention in 2018 and has called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case to prevent the type of “shameful tragedy” that eventually occurred, he said.

“We grieve with the family of Mr Naseem. We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often-abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses to occur, and to ensure that the suspect is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Brown said on Thursday.

“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,” said United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Johnnie Moore in a statement.

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 Nassem’s killer to justice, he said.

As USCIRF has noted countless times, Pakistan’s blasphemy law inflames inter-religious tensions and too often leads to violence, said 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,” Bhargava said.

Naseem was first arrested in April 2018 after a local accused him of blasphemy. According to the FIR, the prisoner was charged in February 2019 under sections 153 A, 295 B, and 295 C. The sections pertaining to the country’s blasphemy law.

The deceased had denied the charges and decided to stand trial.